MUSIC/MEMORIES/MEDICINE

CBS TV showed parts of the Tony Bennett/Lady Gaga concert at Radio City in Special touted as the last time you will see Tony Bennett, who is 95 and has Alzheimer’s. What a cold way to sell a show!

I watched one song in it. Tony was standing in the crook of the piano singing ‘Love For Sale, while Gaga danced. I turned it off. I felt that it was a case of taking advantage of Bennett. See the old man try to remember the words. Kind of like going to an auto race hoping to see a crash. Going to a hockey game hoping to see a fight. Slowing down driving by an accident to see if it was more than just a fender bender.

But Danny Bennett praised both the concert and the special. Said it was good for his father. And Danny loved his father. He gave up a musical and producing career to save his father’s life and get him back to being the man that Tony Bennett was before he hit rock bottom.

In an interview on CBS’s Sixty Minutes, Lady Gaga also said that working with his music again helped Tony Bennett. She described how during rehearsals and the first of the concerts, Bennett sang his Standards without missing a beat; but she said he was oblivious to her and everything else. But then when she came on stage in the second concert to do her duets with him. Tony watched her as she approached him. He broke out in a big smile and said, ‘Lady Gaga’. He remembered her.

Her words were a breakthrough in my understanding how the music helped Tony Bennett, even if only for a short while. I thought back on the countless times I held a fussy baby in my arms and sang,Hush, little baby, now don’t you cry.’ Or cuddled a little one in my lap and sang,’You are my Special Angel, sent from up above’. While the song brought to the little one it also helped the singer’s disposition.

Familiar music brings back warm memories of bits and pieces of my life when I hear a certain song. There isn’t a day that I don’t tell Alexa to play songs from my library.

Jan and Dean were pioneers in Surfing Rock music. One of their biggest hits was Dead Man’s Curve. It dealt with a dangerous curve in a highway outside of L.A.. At the peak of their career, Jan Berry, driving his usual dangerous speed rammed into a parked truck a few miles from the curve. He was thought dead at the scene; but he manged to live, even if it took years before he could regain a semblance of his past life.

During these rehab years, Jan went on tour with Dean. One of the concerts was at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. I worked the lights from the stage right wing. Prior to half hour I went into the green room to get a cup of coffee. Both performers were sitting there. Dean was friendly and talked a good bit with me. Jan didn’t look at me. He stared out the window all the time. When they came into the wing waiting to go on stage. Dean smiled as he led Jan in. Jan had a hard time walking and just stared ahead.. My first thought was there was no way there would be a concert with Jan in that condition. I took the house lights out, the band began, stage lights up and watched as Dean holding onto Jan’s hand led his partner to the mic.

When the applause ended, the two began to sing. Jan gazed out into the darkness but he sang his parts without any problem. At the end, Dean led him off stage and Jan was back to his blank stare persona.

Eventually, Jan recovered and led a normal life in the music industry, albeit, with much physical pain. Then, 38 years after the accident, Jan suffered a stroke and died. But for that second lifetime, music was his medicine.

Back in 2016 I read where one of favorite lyric poets, singer/songwriter, Kris Kristofferson was in the early stages of Alzheimers. Kris was living on his ranch in Hawaii with a large portion of his 8 children, their children, and just about anyone who wanted to spend some time there. His wife took him to their place in California where the only extraneous noise would come from the music that Kris liked best. His memory improved in the solitude and in the fact a California doctor’s diagnosis was Lyme Disease, not Alzheimers, and changed the medicine. Kris announced his retirement in 2020, not because of health concerns but just old age. His wife says he is constantly filling up scraps of paper with new lyrics. So music helps but so does Second Opinions.

Brian Wilson was the musical genius behind The Beach Boys; the writer, producer, co-lead singer; but he thought the music was pedestrian, and aspired to compose in the manner of George Gershwin and others. His first nervous breakdown came on tour in Australia. He was replaced by a fine studio musician, Glen Campbell.

His bouts with mental illness led him to enlist a handler, Eugene Landry, a self professed expert, (aka con man), in helping the mentally disturbed. Landry soon became the biggest influence in Wilson’s life, taking over Wilson’s finances and in return ‘rehabilitated’ him with LSD, coke, opium, booze, junk food, etc., and cutting him off from his old friends and family.

In one of the rehab years, Wilson’s brothers Carl and Dennis, persuaded Brian to go on tour with the Beach Boys. One of the stops was Northrop Auditorium at the U of MN.

When it came time for Brian to take part in the concert, it was as if I was seeing Jan and Dean again. Brian’s two brothers led him to the mic. As he was led past me. I saw that blank stare Jan had had .But when it came time to join in, to co-lead sing, he did so just as if he was back in his old form. The same way Jan had done.

It took several years before he came back completely and when he did he broke off on his own. His two brothers were dead. Dennis drowned and Carl died of cancer. Their was bad feelings and lawsuits between Brian and the other members of the group.

Once again I witnessed the effect that music had on a person who was in grave need of it.

Age can also bring about a softness in the heart. I see where Brian Wilson is going to reunite with cousin Mike Love and Al Jardine, two other founders of The Beach Boys, and former unfriends, in a reunion tour of the group. You think maybe a new album will come out of the tour?

I worked many Frank Sinatra concerts over the years. Heck, I even paid to see him, once prior to being a stagehand and once while I was in the business. I worked the Rat Pack Tour in 1988 just after Dean Martin pleaded sickness and was replaced by Lisa Minnelli. The tour was just two years after Sinatra was hospitalized with a serious intestinal malady. It hadn’t slowed him down. His road manager told me that Martin left, not because of illness, but because of the antics of Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., like lighting firecrackers in the hotel corridors late at night.

But his age and past life caught up with him soon after. His heart, his lungs, his stomach began to slow him down. And he developed a form of dementia. One of his last concerts took place at the Met Ice Arena in Bloomington, MN., during the Super Bowl Week festivities in the Twin Cities in 1992. He had regressed greatly since I worked him in 88.

I got a hint of his problems during the stage set up. We put three very large video monitors across the front stage. In the test I saw the words to songs Sinatra had sung for years. The band was conducted, not by names like Nelson Riddle or Buddy Rich, but Frank Sinatra Jr., whose main concern was not so much the conducting as taking care of his father.

After sound check Jr. left to bring his father to the arena. I was there when he helped Frank out the limo in the corridor. Of all the times I worked Frank Sinatra he always pointed at me and said he remembered the hat. Always. He had always joked with the stagehands, but not this time. He looked only at his son.

I held a flashlight and walking backwards up the escape stairs to the stage shined it so Frank could see the steps, while Jr. followed, placing a reassuring hand on his father’s back.

He was breathing heavily as he struggled up the stairs. He paused midway up and spoke.

‘Hey, kid, where did you say we were?

‘Minneapolis, Pop.’

‘I’ve been here before, haven’t I?’

‘Couple years ago on the Rat Pack tour.’

‘They with me tonight?’

‘No, Pop. Just you. You’re the big act for the Super Bowl shindig.’

‘Super Bowl! Who won?’

‘It’s next Sunday, Pop. We’ll watch on TV at home’.

I tried to swallow the lump that was in my throat. We waited stage left as the band played the introduction. Stage lights to dim and Jr. brought his dad to the large glow tape X where the vocal mic stand stood. Frank took the mic, held it the right distance from his mouth and launched into his first song, Night And Day’.

His voice was raspy but he still pronounced the lyrics distinct as he always did. He gave a good performance, relying on help from the video monitors. A few times he went up searching for what was next in the song; but Jr. and the band covered until he was back on track.

His familiar music was working a transformation. With each song’s ending, he seemed to regain more and more of his personality. His old patter returned, the wise cracks, even his remembering that it was Super Bowl week. But his voice was sounding more and more tired. Near the hour mark of the concert, the band cut loose with ‘Come Fly With Me’. At the end of the song, the stage lights went down. The applause erupted. The lights came back full and Sinatra sang ‘My Life’. Each time I find myself flat on my face, I just pick myself up and get back in the race.’

The lights dimmed and the applause was louder than before. Sinatra’s encores always consisted of six or more song; but when the stage lights returned, Frank was at the top of the escape stairs with Frank Jr. and me and my flashlight.

‘Do I go back on, Kid?’

‘No, Pop. We’re going back to the hotel and then fly home tomorrow.’

‘Good. I am tired.’

Thank goodness the set had not included Frank singing ‘My Way’; but ease time I hear the song and the words ‘And now the end is near and I must face the final curtain’, I think back on the last Frank Sinatra concert I worked.

Frank Sinatra died two year later. But his music is still a favorite way of mine to relax me.

Glen Campbell suffered from Alzheimers for several years. His last tour is the subject of a documentary by James Keach of his last tour. The title of the film is ‘I’ll Be Me’. If you have a couple hours free and a couple boxes of Kleenix, I would recommend watching it.

In the first part Campbell is happy go lucky, singing his songs, carrying on with the three of his children who are in the band, doing Donald Duck impressions, teasing the young son of the bus driver, and fighting back against the loss of memory. But helpful as the first part of the tour was to Campbell, the second part broght out the horror of the disease. It showed Campbell in a foul mood most of the time, constantly complaining about the way the music was being played, the audiences, and wandering around the stage changing songs on the fly. Making up things to rant about. Forgetting importing things. At peace only when he was deep into singing or talking to his daughter.

His music had helped him but the length of the tour just was too much for anyone, much less a person with his mental problems.

The film premiered in 2015 and was updated in 2017 when Glen Campbell died.

The award winning song, ‘I’ m Not Going To Miss You,’ came about from a quote of Glen Campbell’s one day when he grew tired of trying to answer questions about his Alzheimers. ‘I don’t know why everybody’s worried about. It’s not like I am going to miss anyone anyway.’

And to Jan Berry, Kris Kristofferson, Brian Wilson, Frank Sinatra, Glen Campbell, and Tony Bennett, we understand about the times you didn’t miss anyone; but believe me I will always miss you and your music, memories, and medicine.

And I, for one, use your music as a balm to help overcome the anxiety of growing old.

And in the words of William Congreve

Music has charms to soothe a savage breast’

TONY BENNETT-AGE 95+

Tony Bennett – Age 95 +

On his 95 birthday, Tony Bennett with Lady Gaga performed at Rockefeller Center. They did another show the next day. The advanced billing proclaimed it was the last time Bennett would ever perform. His son/manager, Danny Bennett announced that because of age frailty his father official retired.He did not mention that his father was afflicted with Alzheimers.

A month later Tony cut an album, Love For Sale, with his costar Lady Gaga.

Singing was an important part of his life even as a youngster. At the age of 10, standing next to Mayor La Guardia, Anthony Dominick Benedetto sang at the opening of the Triborough Bridge in New York City. Even though he had to drop out of school to help support his family, he continued to try and advance his singing career by working as a singing waiter and going to amateur singing contests, landing a small gig at a club in Paramos, New Jersey, under the stage name Joe Beri.. And all the while trying to earn a decent wage in Hoover’s Depression, a impossible task that made him an outspoken Democrat from then on.

When he tuned 18 he was drafted. The War in Europe was nearing the end. The Battle of the Bulge had reduced the German Army to slow combative retreat. The Allies were pushing the Germans back to their Father Land but at a heavy cost on both sides.

In March of 45, Benedetto was sent to the front in the 255th Infantry Regiment which had suffered enormous casualties in the Bulge and continued as it led the assault to push back the Germans to their homeland and hopefully their surrender. As Tony described the fighting as a ‘front row seat in hell’. House to house, hedgerow to hedgerow. Wondering if the next dawn would be his last. Somehow he escaped death and physical damage. But the insanity caused Benedetto to be an outspoken pacifist from then on.

He took part in the liberation of a German concentration camp which held a number of American POW’s. This event only increased his hatred of War.

After VE Day he was assigned to Special Services as a singer. But that plum duty was short lived.

He was seen dining with a soldier, a friend from high school, a black soldier. Demoted for this US Military ‘crime’, he was transferred to a desk in Grave Registrations. Funny, while he couldn’t dine with a black soldier, he could work on registering the proper graves of the dead soldiers, irregardless of their color, religion, or any other difference. This punishment did nothing to change his acceptance of people.

Nor did he take a hiatus from his goal of being a professional singer. He found he could entertain in the military by using his old stage name, Joe Beri.

His discharge brought Tony a chance to advance his singing via the GI Bill. He enrolled in the American Theater Wing, a school more dedicated to the theater arts rather than the teaching of music, especially pop music. He was taught in the bel canto method, a 19th Century Italian Operatic school of preserving one’s natural voice and respecting both the melody and lyrics.

He adopted the style of certain musicians, like Stan Getz and Art Tatum. And he followed Frank Sinatra’s respect for the lyrics of the song, No crooning like Bing Crosby but crisp and precise pronunciation of each and every word.

There were several recordings done in a small studio under the Joe Beri name, but none took off. Pearl Bailey hired Tony to open her show in Greenwich Village where Bob Hope saw him and hired him to go on tour. Hope told Tony Benedetto to shorten his name to Tony Bennett. After sending a demo to Columbia he was signed by Mitch Miller to help fill the void of Sinatra who had just left Columbia.

The first Columbia recording for Bennett was a cover of The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, accompanied by the Marty Manning Orchestra and it had a modest success, which prompted Miller to have Bennett work with Percy Faith.

Faith, the originator of ‘easy listening’ put a lush arraignment to Bennett’s singing Because of You, a song from the movie I Was An American Spy. Ten weeks #1, way over a million record seller. Tony Bennett made the big time. With the song still on the charts, Tony did something he would be known for his whole career, he introduced himself to a brand new audience..

Hank Williams was the hottest C&W artist of the time, one of the best of all time. Williams had a big C&W hit of hisCold Cold Heart and recognizing the greatness of the song, Tony Bennett cut a recording of it. It helped both men because it introduced them both to a new audience, one of the first crossover hits. Williams telephoned Bennett and told him how much he loved Bennett’s version and he plays it on the juke box all the time.

Bennett’s next record, Blue Velvet was hit with the teenagers and he played a run of 7 concerts daily at the Paramount Theater in New York City. Rags to Riches followed and was another #1 hit. The producers of the upcoming musical Kismet got him to record A Stranger In Paradise, a song from the show in order to promote the opening. It worked and the recording hit #1 in Britain, and the young man from Queens became an international sensation.

In the late 50’s Ralph Sharon became Bennettt’s pianist, arranger, conductor, and confidant. Sharon persuaded him to get back to his jazz roots, to forget the sugary songs, and work with jazz instrumentalists like Herbie Mann and Art Blakely. Sharon worked with Bennett for over 50 years.

Sharon almost made a grave error when he put a copy of a song in a drawer and forgot about it; but years later, he remembered it and brought it out for a tour that included San Francisco. I Left My Heart In San Francisco far exceeding the boundaries of the Bay Area and became Bennett’s signature song.

(The first time I worked Tony Bennett was a two concert night at the Guthrie. When we were almost done with loading out the sound equipment, Tony came up to me, shook my hand, told me how much he enjoyed working with us, and asked if he and Ralph could work out something on the piano, which was still on stage. I told him fine and when the sound was loaded, I sat backstage and enjoyed a private Bennett/Sharon concert.

What I didn’t know at the time was Ralph Sharon had taken a few years off from working with Bennett to avoid the endless touring and this was their reunion concerts, and I was privileged to be present when they worked out details of what they thought should be improved on.

Although I worked Tony Bennett many times, one concert was at Orchestra Hall. In addition to Bennett, I worked Anthony Benedetto.)

The other talent Anthony enjoyed as a youngster was drawing, painting when he could afford oils and canvases. Once he became an established singer he turned to art as a relaxation. Oils, water colors, still life, landscapes, and portraits of the likes of Ellington, Fitzgerald, Gillespie, Mickey Rooney, and others.

His amateur status as an artist soon became professional. His works are in in galleries round the world. There are three hanging in the Smithsonian. All his art is singed Anthony Benedetto, which allows them to stand alone, not on the crutch of the famous ‘Tony Bennett’.

(The concert at Orchestra had a large screen and Anthony Benedetto’s art was projected on it as Tony Bennett sang downstage. I was on a spotlight in the balcony, a perfect place to see the painting projections and hear the Tony sing and Ralph on piano. What a treat!)

The 70’s s started out strong for Tony. He worked and recorded with jazz greats like Basie and Adderly. Then the Beatles turned the pop music into the dominating force. Bennett tried his hand at pop and failed. He tried acting and one picture convinced him to forget it.The one positive was he participated in the Civil Rights marches.

He moved to London and became a modest hit with his own talk show. Came back home and started a recording company which turned out two fine Bennett jazz records; but with no experience in distribution, the company failed.

At the end of the decade, Bennett had the IRS on his back along with a cocaine monkey. His music career was nothing except for gigs in Vegas. He almost died from a drug overdose. Enter his son, Danny, an aspiring musician whose career was going no where fast. He devoted his time to getting his father’s life and career back on track.

He convinced his father to stick to the American Standard tunes with jazz backing. Forget Vegas. Take gigs in small venues. He brought back Ralph Sharon just in time for me working the two of them at the Guthrie. Thank you, Danny.

While Tony’s fans stuck with him, he and his songs were unknown to the younger generations. To cure that Danny got him booked several times with Dave Letterman which led to MTV taking an interest and Tony Bennett Unplugged resulted in bringing not only young fans but also a contract again with Columbia, which led to Unplugged winning Album of the Year. Like Sinatra had done, he forewent recording singles and concentrated solely on albums.

Theme albums featuring the works of a great such as Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong followed along with his Duets album where he sings with a pantheon of great singers like Barbra Striesand. Elton John, Paul McCartney, among others. Albums with just him backed up by jazz artists.

He teamed with the talented K.D.Lang in both recording and live concerts. Later he would do the same with Lady Gaga, who would sing with him in Duets II, along with the voices of Willie Nelson and Amy Winehouse and others.

As the accolades and honors poured in, he continued to work for charitable and political causes. He wrote two books of his memories. There was a big to-do when he reached the age of 80, little did anyone suspect he would have another 15 years of work ahead. At age 88 he recorded another Grammy winner, Cheek to Cheek, which debuted at #1 on Billboard. And he went on an extended tour with Lady Gaga. There was another big to-do when he reached 90, followed by a singles recording of Fascinating Rhythm which he had recorded a few weeks short of 69 years before. At the age of 95, he cut his album. Love For Sale.

The last time I actually spoke to Tony Bennett was New Years Eve, 2015, in an elevator at the Paris Casino in Las Vegas. Bennett was appearing that evening at the Paris where my wife and I were staying. Tickets for his performance had been long sold out and much too expensive for us anyway.

(I was going to the lobby when the door opened up and Tony Bennett got in.I offered condolences on the death of his friend, Ralph Sharon. Tony smiled and said it was a great loss after all those years working with his friend.

Tony asked if I knew Ralph; but the elevator stopped at Bennett’s floor and ended our conversation. He wished me a Happy New Year.

And as the door closed he gave me a thumbs up.

ON ICE – II

During the heyday of Ice Follies another big ice show, Ice Capades, toured the country. It’s birth was as unpredictable as was it entire life. Capades grew out of an idea of John Harris, manager of the Pittsburgh ice arena, who hired the Swedish ice skater and movie star, Sonja Henie, in 1936, to skate between periods of the hockey games, hoping to build ticket sales for the team. It worked and soon other team owners followed suit with other figure skaters.

Four years later he and other arena managers around the Eastern states joined together and started Ice Capades.

Although it never attracted many big name stars like the Follies did, it was very popular for several decades. It made no pretext to be a serious art form and relied on corny, crowd pleasing acts for the most part. And it did not bother to develop stars. It relied on getting established stars from other shows and ice skating medal winners.

In the late 80’s, when all the ice shows began to decline, it managed to get Scott Hamilton under contract for a short time before he started his Stars on Ice, a show that stuck to the routines of the skaters without any extra things like sets or chorus lines. In 1991 it went bankrupt.

Then Capades was purchased by Dorothy Hamill, America’s new skating darling, an Olympic Gold Medalist and several times World Champion. And whose hairdo, ‘the short and sassy look’ became a fad.

She tried presenting a version of Cinderella on ice. It lasted only two years, just long enough to borrow a great deal of money to keep it afloat. Hamill sold the company to the Televangelist Pat Robinson. An investment only. I don’t think he used it to convert more potential donors.

Capades bounced around for several more years in some form or the other, but finally gave up the ghost in 2009, stranding skaters and crew without pay and running out of it’s suppliers.

(One of my favorite Woody Allen lines comes from HANNA AND HER SISTERS. Woody is discussing the afterlife and someone reminds him that there is a belief that when you die you just relive your life all over again. ‘Oh, great,’ Woody whines,’That means I have to watch Ice Capades over again.’)

We had the pleasure of working with Dorothy Hamill for two Decembers when she did her Nutcracker On Ice at the Orpheum in Minneapolis. It was a ‘cute’ show but it could not really compete with the many Nutcrackers that are danced every year in the Twin Cities.

Dorothy was a real pro, treated her audience and her crew with respect, in spite of the fact she was very unhappy at the time. She suffered from depression all her life. Twice married and twice divorced to Dean Martin Jr., she was devastated by his death when his National Guard jet plane hit a mountain.

She was married to her second husband during her two seasons of Nutcracker on Ice. He was the complete opposite of his wife. He was abrasive, rude, and treated the time-honored traditions of show business with all the slickness of a used car salesman. He regarded her as his property instead of his wife.

One of his publicity stunts was to buy matching fur coats for himself and Dorothy. The coats were humongous and hideous to boot. Dorthy hated them but he insisted that the coats would be worn to and from the theater. Somehow on the very first day of them wearing them, protesters from PETA and like fur coat haters, were there in full force and each day the crowd grew bigger. Dorothy would run into the theater in tears while he stayed back and made fun of the protest. He loved it. He was also accused of leaking the wearing of the fur coats to PETA from the start.

She has another husband now. I hope her marital disasters with her first two husbands has taught her something and she found one who will be a good partner and appreciates her for herself and not just celebrity arm candy.

The third major ice show was Holiday On Ice. This show came about in 1942 when Emery Gilbert developed a portable method to make an ice rink anyplace. He brought the concept to a Morris, Morrie, Chalfen, a Minneapolis entrepreneur, who saw a way to compete with the two major ice shows, put traveling shows with smaller casts, 20 girls, 10 boys, where the major shows could not visit because there were no ice arenas. As Morrie loved to say, ‘Have rink. Will travel’.

At it’s peak, Holiday had companies in the U.S., Europe, Central and South America. It’s first tour out of the country was to Mexico in1947. For a few years, Sonja Henie headlined a company, first in Paris, finished off in South America.

More about Holiday On Ice and Morrie in the next On Ice Post.

ELTON IN THE USA

@The Guthrie

Elton John is on his ‘Farewell Tour of the US’. But wait, that could change. The multi talented French star, Maurice Chevalier, enjoyed his first farewell tour of the US so much he took two more farewell tours after.

I worked many Elton John concerts in arenas, theaters, and even a private show for the managers of Best Buy stores. The finest was at the U of MN’s Northrop Auditorium. The 1st half was John on piano and Ray Cooper, the fine percussionist from the UK, on a variety of things including a large gong. He was actually on the gong at one point, hanging on and beating time. The 2nd half was Elton going alone. The sound system was a new package of the Clair Brothers, the top audio company on the road. What a concert!

I worked Elton John’s 1st US tour when he came to the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Sue Weill, promoter extraordinaire of the Walker Art Center booked him, and I handled the lighting. Gosh, thinking back I can’t get over how shy and polite this young man was then. Little did anyone realize he would be the UK’s biggest star after the Beatles.

Here’s a reblog from March 2013 of that experience from the Old Hand.

Elton John’s first USA tour was in 1970. One of his stops was the Guthrie. Like all these concerts at the theater in those days, the sound was provided by a local company and the lighting by the Guthrie. Sometimes the acts brought in a lighting designer; but most of the time, I was the designer as well as the electrician. Even if a lighting designer came with the act, I usually ended up designing the show because very few designers knew how to light on a thrust stage.

When Elton came for sound check, I asked him about his lighting needs. He just shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know and would leave it up to me. He said that he didn’t require anything fancy. Such a polite ‘chap’. He always called me ‘sir’.

As usual, we did two shows that evening. Both were sold out. Elton put on two great shows. In the last show, he loosened up and did things that he didn’t do in the first show. He really attacked the piano. Hands, feet, standing up, spinning around on the bench.

His manager sat next to the lighting board up in the booth. He clued me in on what the next song was going to be so I could think of what kind of ‘look’ would work. At the end of the last show he asked what I thought of Elton. ‘What do you think? Do you think he’ll make it big? I mean really big.’

‘Well’, I said, ‘He puts on a good show, that’s for sure. I really like his Jerry Lee Lewis  piano playing. Good voice. Should do good. Except –  those glasses. Get him contacts. Nobody is going to make it really big wearing glasses.’

We were tearing down the sound and Elton came on stage and thanked us. When he shook my hand, he mentioned his manager had told him that I liked the shows. Nothing was said about my not liking the glasses though.

I worked him many time since, but never again at the Guthrie. He outgrew small venues quickly and played the big arenas like TargetCenter. Like any arena show, big effects were added, often at the expense of music. Nothing like the pure concert he did at the Guthrie.

Although, well after he made it big, he did forego the arena shows and did an acoustic tour. He played at Northrop, at the U of MN. He reverted back to his ‘not requiring anything fancy’. It was minimal, great sound system, and basic lighting. The first half, Ray Cooper, the great percussionist, joined him. The second half it was just Elton. Certainly one of the best concerts I have ever worked. In spite of the fact he still was wearing glasses.

A while back, a very talented cartoonist, Joel Orff, had a weekly cartoon, Great Moments in Rock and Roll, in a local paper called The Pulse. A stagehand, Rich Labas, suggested to Joel that he get together with me and do some of my stories. I asked him to use the name Old Hand on our stories. That’s the Old Hand in the hat. He did several, Elton, Prince, James Brown. And then the paper folded. Joel does his magic for a paper out in California now. Here’s his cartoon of my story.
Joel’s work can be seen at much better at:
http://jorff.com/

http://jorff.com/rock/EltonJohn.html

EltonJohn

For his farewell to the Twin Cities he is playing the Xcel Center, an arena in St. Paul. While I worked his 1st Concert here, I won’t be working his ‘last’ one.

ON ICE – I

Another Olympics. Another scandal. Some of the usual suspects…Russia/young figure skater.

This one had the best excuse I have heard in a long time, ‘I took my grandpa’s medicine by mistake’. But even with the tears and excuse, she finished fourth.

No skating scandal in the 1968 Winter Games though when Peggy Fleming won the only Gold Medal for the US, just gasps of awes. And those awes, some of them mine, were heard again every time she took to the ice in the Ice Follies.

Here is a reblog from the past.

Ice Follies 63This started out to be another KGB story; but then as I got writing I realized that large Ice Show revues are a thing of the past… just like vaudeville. So as I began to give a brief backstory to the intended story, KGB AND THE ZAMBONI, then I decided to delay it and write a longer version of ice shows as I remember them and as I worked them.

Back in the day when ice shows were full blown revues, ala Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway, only on ice, and not today’s costumed skaters presenting a cut-down Disney movie, there were three major ice shows touring the country. Big shows. Big sets. Large casts that included solo stars, chorus lines, comedy sketches. And they used a large number of local stagehands. Spectaculars!

The original was Shipstads & Johnson Ice Follies. It was launched by the two Shipstad brothers, Eddie and Roy, and Oscar Johnson. The three friends grew up in St. Paul, MN and were regular ‘Shop Pond ice rats’. The Shop Pond was behind the Great Northern railroad shop where the neighborhood kids had adopted as a rink for hockey and figure skating. It was on this pond that the Shipstad brothers and Oscar Johnson worked out routines and entertained audiences who were standing in the cold at the edge of the pond, and it was here that a new kind of entertainment was created. The world of lavish ice skating productions.

The three friends started the company in 1936. They were featured in the Joan Crawford movies, THE ICE FOLLIES OF 1939, starring Joan Crawford and Jimmy Steward, hoping to compete with the Swedish ice skater Sonja Henie’s popular movies. It flopped and didn’t put a dent in Henie’s popularity, but it put Ice Follies on the map. Sonja Henie eventually worked with the two major ice shows that followed the Follies; but she never worked for Shipstads and Johnson, because they had their own stars.

Over the years they presented many stars of the ice, for instance the comedic skating duo from Switzerland, Frick and Frack. Prior to bring in this act, Eddie Shipstad and Oscar Johnson were the comic skaters, with their skid row routine. They were good but Frick and Frack were great.

Vastly popular, their stage names were adopted into the English language as a term for two closely identified people. Some of their routines are seldom performed because they are just too hard to do.

When Frack retired, Frick continued as a ‘solo’, using various young skaters as second bananas, who were never given a name as part of the act. One reason being the young skaters changed quite often. Some quit the act after just few performances. Frick was not an easy person to work with. He was very good but not as good as he thought he was. He was popular on the ice but not backstage. He was not friendly to his fellow skaters or the stagehands.

Roy Shipstad was a talented figure skater. He skated under the name Mr. Debonair. Recognizing that his age and front office work would force him to discontinue his Mr. Debonair routine, he scouted for someone to eventually take over the role. He found a youngster who was so good they didn’t wait for him to replace Roy Shipstad. They gave him a spot in the show under the name Young Mr. Debonair. He became a fan favorite from the start.

Young Mr. Debonair, Richard Dwyer, grew up in the show. Starting out as a preteen he continued skating well into adulthood. He went to high school in every city they stopped that had a Christian Brothers school. A few weeks here. A few weeks there. Had assignments to do from school to school. Got his high school degree working and touring.

Like Roy Shipstad, Richard was the epitome of a gentleman, before and after he dropped the ‘Young’ from his introduction, skating a classic form, dressed in a tux with a flower in his button hole. He always skated with six beautiful women in flowing gowns and gave out roses to women in the audience. And off the ice he was also a gentleman. A favorite of any one who worked with him, including the local stagehands like me.

Then there was a second generation Shipstad, Jill. Daughter of Roy, her routines were athletic and used some humor. Skating to music with a jazz beat, she seemed to be jitterbugging rather than the traditional graceful gliding.

One of Eddie’s son, Bob Shipstad worked in the front office and helped develop routines for the skaters. For one season the show presented Sesame Street costume skaters. When the Follies went full time Disney, Bob worked several years helping Vince Egan develop Sesame Street Live, (no ice skating), into the block-buster it is today.

Another star developed by the Follies was Karen Kresge. That gal was quite an athletic skater. And her routine was sexy with a capital S. Every male in the audience, that might have been nodding off, woke up when she was burning up the ice. In later years she, like many of the ice skating stars, worked for Holiday On Ice and also did choreography for both skaters and dancers. She worked with Woodstock Productions, a Charles Schultz company, for over 30 years. She was a great favorite of Snoopy, Schultz’s famous creation.

Charles Schultz grew up only a few miles from the Shop Pond albeit several years after the Shipstads and Johnson were on the Pond ice. Like many kids in that neighborhood Schultz loved ice skating all his life. In his later years he owned an ice rink in California and has an ice rink named for him in St. Paul.

(A little aside. Although Shipstads, Johnson, and Schultz grew up in St. Paul they had problems with their hometown. Feeling they were slighted at their start, the Ice Follies refused to perform in St. Paul. All their Twin City performances were in Minneapolis and its suburbs. Schultz had his first strip ‘Lil’ Folks run the St. Paul Dispatch and then in 1950 the paper dropped him. A few years later they begged to have him back, but he vowed never to allow his strip, now re-titled as Peanuts, run in the St. Paul paper and it never has.)

And my all time favorite figure skater is Peggy Fleming, Gold Medal winner in the Olympics. Three times World Champion. Went on to be one of the biggest stars of Ice Follies. And like Richard Dwyer, one of the nicest people to work with.Peggy Fleming

Such a sweetheart! I made certain I had the same task each time the show was in town. After she finished her routine I would hold a flashlight so she could ‘walk’ up the rubber mats on the ramp to her dressing room. She asked me my name the first time I helped her, and she always remembered it over the years, and thanked me by name each time up the ramp. And always with her warm smile.

She changed her act each season but the one I remember the most her all blue routine. The ice bathed in blue light. Peggy wearing a blue gown. The eight follow- spots spread around the arena capturing her every movement, every facial expression, in their soft pale blue lights.

And, even though the show trouped an orchestra, she skated this routine to a specially made tape of Frank Sinatra singing, IF YOU GO AWAY. Slow, sad, graceful skating as the lyrics lamented the thought of ‘you’ going away. Fast, gleeful skating as the lyrics changed to ‘but if you stay’. Back to the sadness of ‘if you go away, as you know you must.’ And ending in a slow face to black with the words, ’please don’t go away.’ Frank Sinatra singing a great song and Peggy Fleming skating in a blue world! The poetry of a real ice show.

Peggy married her high school sweetheart and they have two sons, and three grandchildren. She overcame breast cancer and is a spokesperson for early detection of the disease.

She keeps her hand in ice skating as a TV commentator.

Beloved by millions, her biggest outspoken fan was Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s dog. Charles Schultz devoted many a panel on Snoopy’s love for Peggy.

The Follies went downhill in a hurry as a lavish ice revue when the Felds, father and son, bought it. The father, Irving, was a show business promoter specializing in rock concerts . He brought his son Kenneth into the business and the two became big time promoters, with their flagship show, Ringling Brother Circus. In 1979 they bought Ice Follies and in 1981 they worked out a deal with Disney and Ice Follies was no more. The only big ice show now is the Disney costumed show centering around a Disney movie.

The Felds were not innovators but grew rich from the hard work and genius of others. The name Feld is not popular the show business community. The skaters of the Follies complained that the Felds were trying to make their show a circus on ice. They took acts like trained dogs and traditional clowns from the circus and introduced them into the ice show as additional acts that worked on rubber mats. They also introduced common circus practices such as low pay and disregard for their workers and performers. They helped grease the skids toward the extinction of the big ice reviews.

(In 1984 the Follies were doing their yearly stint in the Twin Cities. We had just finished up the between-acts preset and as we walked up the ramp we heard a lot of clapping and gleeful shouting in the dressing rooms hall. I asked a skater if what the clapping was about. ‘Somebody win the lottery?’ He said that the stage manager had just announced over the horn that Irving Feld, (the father), had just died. Ooh, applauding this. Cold, cold!)

I don’t know about the popularity of the Ice Follies around the country prior to the plug being pulled, but I do know they were selling out in the Twin Cities. I often thought that the show changed to Disney On Ice was because the big-name skaters did not want to work for the Feld Organization. It was much easier to control youngsters wearing Disney costumes, who are thrilled just to be in show business, then skaters who upheld the tradition started by the Shipstads and Johnson way back on a little ice pond behind the railroad garage in St. Paul.

After the Ice Follies began, two other organizations put large scale ice shows on the road. Ice Capades and Holiday on Ice. In On Ice Part 2, I will write about them.

Ice Follies

STRANGERS ON A STAGE

A reblog of a reblog

In honor of the Man, Robert Zimmerman, aka Bob Dylan, being honored with the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first Singer/Songwriter be so recognized, I am bringing back this post. Oh, there’s also a memory of Prince there also. And now this Singer/Songwriter/ Nobel Prize winner has just sold his Songbook for umpteen millions.

And a memory of Prince whose estate was finally settled by his family.

And a memory of the lovely lady with the lovely voice, Judy Collins, has just struck a blow for the fight against COVID by refusing to allow Spotify play her music because of their allowing  on COVID LIES to be broadcasted on their station.

To most people having an encounter with a ‘celebrity’ is an unusual event. But to stage hands, it is an every day occurrence. Except! Sometimes a ‘celebrity’ shows up by surprise.

 Old Guthrie II The Old Guthrie

 

It was a Leon Redbone concert at the Guthrie. Tom, the deck stage hand called me up in the booth to tell me about the guy who just wandered in backstage. Tom said he looked like some homeless guy, tee shirt, jeans with holes in them, sandals, a goofy looking hat, longish hair, a week’s growth of beard. I asked Tom if he had any trouble throwing him out.

‘Well’, Tom explained. ‘I told him he would have to leave. Grabbed his elbow and showed him the door. Then when the light came from the open door, I realized that I was about to kick Bob Dylan out. Apologized and he just laughed and he understood. I gave him a chair. Damn! Bob Dylan! And I almost kicked him out the door.’

We had just finished a matinee of The White Devil. Joey B, the deck stagehand called me up in the booth. ‘Don,’ he said, ‘You better come backstage. There’s a guy down here and I ain’t about to kick him out. You do it!’

‘Come on, Joe,’ I got a lot of gel changes to do. Just boot him out.’

‘I ain’t gonna,’ Joey argued. ‘He’s the meanest looking guy I ever saw.’

I went backstage. The man had his back turned to me, looking down the hallway to the dressing rooms. I explained to him that nobody was allowed backstage.

‘Sorry,’ he said in a very soft voice. ‘I was just waiting for my daughter.’ He turned and faced me.

I found myself looking into the face of one of my favorite actors, Jack Palance. His daughter Holly was playing the lead in The White Devil. I shook his hand and told him he was more than  welcome to stay.

When I told Joe who Jack Palance was, Joe just shook his head. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘Holly must take after her mother. She sure don’t look like her dad. – Thank god!’

I was laying on the Guthrie stage, my shoulders and arms extended down a trap hole in the floor. Joey B was below the stage. We were trying to fine tune a schtick that didn’t work at tech rehearsal. Bill, the sound man, was behind me, as usual making wise cracks. I was losing my patience, and the bolt I was trying to take out was turning.

Without looking back, I extended my arm back and told Bill to give me your f—–g C-wrench.

A soft voice, which definitely wasn’t Bill, answered, ‘Sorry. I must have left my f—–g C-wrench in my other purse.’ And there was a lot of laughter behind me.

I rolled over and looked up. I didn’t recognize the face for a beat or two, and then it dawned on me, it was Judy Collins. Her talking voice had the same crystal quality as her singing voice.

Next to her stood Stacey Keach, the actor, and Jon, one of the Guthrie stage managers. Behind them was Bill. I was the only one on stage that wasn’t laughing.

‘Oh, he’s a smooth talker,’ Bill quipped. ‘And would you believe that’s only his second best pickup line.’

More laughing and from down below, Joey B, who had no idea what had happened, began to holler at me to quit screwing around and get back to helping him fix the god darn piece.

Jon told me that he and Stacy were classmates in college. Stacy and Judy were in town for something, and Jon was giving them a tour of the theater. I tried to apologize for my language, but Judy just laughed and said next time she would be sure and pack a C-wrench in her purse. But first I would have to explain to her what a C-wrench was.

One of my favorite piece of music is Judy Collins singing SEND IN THE CLOWNS, and every time I play it, I always think to myself, ‘but be sure and tell them to bring their C-wrenches’.

big northrop Northrop Auditorium @ U of MN

In ’82, the Metrodome’s opening was an extravaganza, Scandinavia Today, featuring the King and Queen of Sweden. The one special request the King asked for was that Swedish born Ann Margret bring her Las Vegas show to Minneapolis sometime during the week- long fest. The Minnesota Orchestra honored his request and booked it for two shows at Northrop Auditorium.

At the top of the first show, young Joey R and I were in the #2 wing, on warn for the mid-black to come in after for Ann Margret danced her way downstage. There was a quick reset once the curtain came in. We couldn’t see Ann Margret until she was even with us.

When she came into our view, young Joey bellowed out, ‘HOLY S–T!!!’

Now I don’t know if the King and Queen, sitting in the front row, heard his shout, but I do know Ann Margret did. She did a quick double take look into our wing and flashed us a quick smile.

The blackout curtain came in and the hands ran out to set the next portion, while Ann Margret was downstage, welcoming the King and Queen and singing a song in Swedish for them. As Joey and I went into the wings, I jumped on Joey for being so unprofessional. He stammered how sorry he was. It was just he had never seen her before, never even heard of her and….

‘She does have that effect on men,’ the man standing in the wing said, ‘Even me. And I have been married to her for fifteen years.’ It was her husband, Roger Smith. Outside of the fact he needed his two canes to stand steady, due to his having MG, he looked as dapper as he did when he use to walk out the door of 77 SUNSET STRIP.

Once in the stagehands’ room, the other hands teased young Joey. His comment had carried clear across the stage. I told him from now on he should find out a little something about the show he was going to work so as not to make a fool out of himself like he just did. And I advised him to go to a video store and rent BYE BYE BIRDIE and VIVA LAS VEGAS.

We’ve been lucky in the Twin Cities that she has come back here a number of times, including acting in the film, GRUMPY OLD MEN. Believe me, if you looked up the definition of a really sweet person, you would see a picture of Ann Margret.

Orpheum Minneapolis Orpheum

I was on my knees in a downstage wing paging a mic for Patti LaBelle. Her concerts were always very fine, except her set belonged in an arena, not a theater. Very crowded on stage. And since wireless mics were still unreliable, a stagehand was needed to page the cable to keep it from tangling in a set piece. You have to concentrate. For that reason I didn’t realize that there were people in the wing with me until they had me surrounded.

I saw a short pair of legs clad in tight purple pants. I didn’t have to even look up to know it was Prince.

The second pair of legs were much more interesting. Much longer. Disappearing in a pair of short shorts. Tight blouse. It was Sheila E.

The third pair were longer still. The shorts, shorter still. The blouse, tighter still. It was Kim Basinger.

Prince might be short in stature, but he more than makes up for it in self-confidence. Not many men would dare attend a concert with both an ex-girlfriend and a current girlfriend. Or maybe it was a current girlfriend and an about-to-be ex-girlfriend.

But this was Prince, The Artist Formally Known as Prince, The Love Symbol. The two ladies were probably both current girlfriends. And for all I knew, Madonna, Carmen Electra, Vanity, etc., etc., etc., might all have been at Paisley Park waiting for the three of them to return so they could all ‘party like it it’s 1999‘.

Yup! The stage is indeed a strange land, and often you meet a stranger there. And often the stranger is stranger than most.

Please take the advice of Judy Collins

Listen to the Medical Scientists

Not the Anti Vaxxers

 

ARSENIC AND OLD PEOPLE

 

A Reblog 

I saw on FB that today is a very big birthday of Peter Michael Goetz, one of the shining actors in the Golden Years of the Guthrie Theater. Although Peter has acted on TV and movies, I think of him as a stage actor. From an acting intern at the Guthrie to Broadway, from small parts to playing leads, from comedy to intense drama. A wide range of roles and captivating in each of them.

This is one of my favorite memories of Peter on the Guthrie stage where he not only played the male lead, he also almost acted as the head usher…albeit it doesn’t portray his acting skills as much as it is an example of why working with him was always fun.

It was a Wednesday matinee of Arsenic and Old Lace, at the Guthrie. There was a large contingent of senior citizens.

(I don’t like that term. I guess I am a senior citizen, but I don’t remember every being called a junior or sophomore citizen. Why can’t we just be called old people? Some people don’t like the idea of growing old; but it certainly is better than not getting any older.)

Anyway, the play had reached the critical exposition scene. The two old aunties, played by Barbara Bryne and Virginia Payne*, are telling their nephew Mortimer, played by Peter Goetz, who the dead body in the window box is and why they put arsenic in his elderberry wine, and about the other dead bodies buried in the cellar.

Three senior citizens, a man and two women, came down the center aisle. The man was holding some tickets and looking down the rows. When they reached the moat, the section that separates the audience from the stage, they continued walking along the audience right of the moat. In the booth the stage manager was trying to get a hold of an usher, and the sound man and myself were laughing. On stage the three actors were trying to keep the play going while glancing slyly at the three patrons.

The three stopped walking the moat, and the old man carefully stepped up the steps to the stage. He held out the tickets and spoke directly to Peter. ‘Sorry we are late. Can you help us find our seats.’ An usher ran down the center aisle and offered assistance to the three.

Surprisingly, the audience didn’t react, perhaps they thought it was a part of the play. Up in the booth though, all three of us reacted. We were laughing so loudly the patrons in the balcony turned around to see where the noise was coming from. And the actors!!!

Peter and Barbara lost it. They both headed upstage and faced the scenery. They tried to keep their laughter from being heard but their bodies shaking gave them away. Thank goodness for Virginia Payne.

Virginia had played the other aunt a year before in the Alley Playhouse in Alley Theatre in Houston, so she was familiar with Barbara’s lines as well as hers. She turned what should have been a dialogue between three people into a monologue. It was a work of art. It moved the play along and gave the other two actors a chance to regain their composure.

Later, in the second act, poor Barbara lost it again. She swatted at a fly that was buzzing around her face. The sleeve of her dress got caught on her earring. Naturally, Peter lost it also. Luckily, it was the end of the scene and the blackout gave them a chance to get offstage.

Just as they did in the first act, both got on the horn backstage and apologized to the stage manager for losing it on stage. And in both incidents, the stage manager told them they weren’t alone. The three in the booth were holding their ribs to try and stop laughing.

There were other times during the run where the cast added additional comedy to the already hilarious production.

In the original script, Peter, whose character is a drama critic. When he first enters he says that he has just come from the Bellasco Theatre. The director, after the first preview decided the audiences weren’t literate enough to know about Bellasco, changed it to the Helen Hayes Theater. Sometimes Peter remembered and said the Helen Hayes Theater, and sometime forgot and called it the Bellasco Theater. Once he forgot both names, paused for a second, and finally blurted out the Cloris Leachman theater. That cracked the booth crew up.

The stage manager told Peter how the electrician and the sound man had a beer bet on if Peter would say Bellasco or Helen Hayes. The following matinee Peter came onstage and looked up at the booth and hollered out that he had just come from the Edmond BOOTH theater. Naturally that cracked the booth crew up.

Another time, thank goodness it was also a matinee, the actor, playing the next old man that the aunties picked out for their arsenic elderberry wine, was sick. His understudy had gotten the job, not because he could act, or even remember his lines; but because he was old.

The understudy stuttered. He stammered. He went up on his lines and he had to get whispered cues from the aunties, on what to say next. Suddenly, with still many lines to say, he bolted for the door. He tripped and fell on the two steps leading to the door. His cane cracked a vase glued on a stand next to the door. He tried to open the door in, forgetting it opened out. He pulled on the door so much the set shook and a stuffed bird, that was on a sill above the door, fell and nearly hit him in the head. When he finally got the door opened, he was holding his cane horizontal, which hit the door and the side of the jam, preventing him to exit. Finally he dropped the cane and went out the door. We cracked up again in the booth.

Ken Ruta, who played the evil brother Jonathon, like to see if he could get Barbara to crack up. He got her one time. The aunties admit while his voice is Jonathon’s, his face isn’t. He pulls out a photo to show them how he looked before his plastic surgery. He always had different picture, like Clark Gable or Marilyn Monroe. The time she cracked was a picture of a naked body builder with the face of Barbara’s husband, Denny Spence, superimposed on it.

*Virginia Payne was the one and only Ma Perkins. Ma Perkins was the most successful daytime soap opera on the radio. It was sponsored by Oxydol Soap, and hence the name of soap opera was born. It was so popular that it ran on NBC and CBS at the same time.

 It was the story of an old lady who was loved by all and gave out down home advice. Virginia got the part from the first even though at age 27, she certainly was not an old lady. In the 27 year run, five days a week, Virginia never missed one episode. When the show finally ended, Virginia was the highest paid actor in daytime radio. 

She was Ma Perkins. In the season she was at the Guthrie she was loved and respected by everyone at the theater. She only spent that one season because the next year she was too sick to work. She died shortly afterwards. What a sweet person!

(The old Guthrie Theater building is long gone, replaced by a beautiful complex overlooking the Mississippi. The old system of having plays in repertoire by a season long acting company is also long gone. Some of the actors, Peter being one of them return periodically to act in a play; but like the years at the old Guthrie, most of them are just memories of us Senior Citizens.)

The Guthrie has just reopened with a new production of

A Christmas Carol

A tradition started back in the day of the Old Guthrie

Please Stay Safe these upcoming holidays

Vaccinations-masks-avoid big gatherings

NO HOLIDAY FOR BLIZZARDS

November 11th 2021 – The 81st Anniversary of the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940.

October 31st 2021 – The 30th Anniversary of the Halloween Blizzard of 1991.

The Armistice Day Blizzard lives in infamy because of the lose of lives attributed to it. There was 49 deaths in Minnesota

13 in Wisconsin

4 in Michigan

Conditions over the 3 days also were responsible for

A freight train colliding with a passenger train killing 2.

The sinking of 3 freighters and two smaller boats on Lake Michigan killing 66.

The Halloween Blizzard dumped a record amount of snow in Minnesota

27 inches in the Twin Cities, 37 inches in Duluth

Twenty two deaths in out-state Minnesota.

None in the Twin Cities area. Thank goodness! Although our 4th son, Darren had a harrowing experience of almost an hour, trapped and having to dig himself out of his snow-buried car, in late afternoon in, of all places, downtown Minneapolis.

Eleven counties in Minnesota and fifty two in Iowa were declared Disaster Areas.

For days the low pressure conditions racked havoc all over the United States. Snow followed by ice, followed by record low temperatures for Autumn. Schools closed, highways closed. Power lines down for over a week. Nobody, including the Weather Bureau was prepared and countless lives were lost in the nation.

And the storm hit the Atlantic Coast with such a fury that it not only caused destruction on the Eastern Seaboard, it moved to the ocean and developed into a hurricane.

It is known as The Perfect Storm.

The death of six fishermen who lost their lives at sea during it, is depicted in the movie The Perfect Storm.

In addition to having started on a holiday, both blizzards were preceded by very unseasonable warm days. The beauty of rare Autumns. When the wind changed and the snow began people were sucker punched, not ready for cold weather, let alone snow and sleet, and ice.

Armistice Day in 1940 was during duck hunting season in Minnesota. Duck hunting in summer clothes. Temps of 65 F. The Mississippi River Bottoms was strung out with hunters from the Twin Cities. They left their cars at the end of the Gun Club road and walked along the river bank to a place where they could be some distance from other hunters. The hunting was good and when the wind changed, it was excellent.

‘There were thousands of duck flying over,’ one of the hunters related. ‘We were so excited we didn’t pay attention to the dropping temperature and the rain that turned to snow.’ By the time they did realize the danger, the snow covered the ground and stopped them from getting back to their vehicles…covered the fuel sources that could provide fires to warm them or cook the ducks that were buried in the drifts. Soon they were left with digging out shelters in the snow. Solo hunters had nobody to cuddle to for shared body heat and walking to others was an impossibility. One of the survivors credited his life to nestling with his two Lab Retrievers. Most of the 49 deaths in Minnesota were duck hunters.

There would have been more deaths if it were not for Max Conrad, a pioneer aviator and Bob Bean, a flight instructor, who flew dangerous missions up and down the river, looking for survivors and dropping life- saving food and supplies.

A great many Minnesotans had much to be thankful for that Thanksgiving, but a turkey dinner was not one of the blessings. The blizzard killed a million and a half turkeys in the state.

The tag line for the Armistice Day Blizzard was ‘if you were living at that time, you would never forget it’. I was only two at the time so that’s my excuse for knowing about it only from the words and writings of older folks.

Not so with the Halloween Blizzard of 91.

That one is etched in my mind.

What a week leading up to it! The Minnesota Twins beat the St. Louis Cards in what was the closest and most exciting World Series on record. Two days later the victory parade followed, and thousands watched in the warm weather. And two more days later the Blizzard hit.

The Minneapolis stagehands were in the process of reopening the State Theater of Minneapolis with the Minnesota Opera production of Carousel. The State was built in 1921 as a vaudeville house, later became a movie theater and then a church for the Jesus People. In 1989 the City of Minneapolis bought the, the Orpheum, the State, and the Pantages theaters and refurbished them into venues for live entertainment. We opened them up in a course of several years in that order.

We had already put in several 12 to 14 hour days mounting the production and we intended to put in another that Thursday. There was a lot of grousing by the hands for having to work indoors when it was so nice outside. After all the nice weather wouldn’t last much longer. But we had no idea of how quick that the weather would change.

There was word of heavy snow south in Iowa, but the Weather Bureau, stationed in Chicago, assured us our nice weather would continue. By mid afternoon the blizzard had made it into the Twin Cities. We called it day and left while we still could drive on the road.

Out son, Darren, had moved his car at lunch and parked it at a meter near the theater. When he got to it the snow from the storm and the sidewalk snowblowers had covered the passenger side right to the roof. He had to walk down the sidewalk and then up the street to get to the driver’s side. He managed to unlock and pull open the door when he saw the warning lights of a snowplow in the next block barreling toward him, blasting the snow on the same side of the one-way street as his car.

He dove inside his car and closed the door just in time. His car was buried. He had to roll down the window little by little and push the snow away. It was slowed by snow sliding down from the roof of the car and new snow from the blizzard. And the temperature tumbled lower. Finally he got the window open all the way and crawled out. There was a janitor in front of the theater clearing the sidewalk with a snowblower. He took his machine and freed the car.

I had parked in an underground garage and even though the going was slow I made it home without incident. Our street was plowed because a neighbor was a volunteer fireman and the city kept the street clear in case he was needed. I got out my snowblower and go the car in the garage.

One by one our boys called, checking in and asking if we were okay. Darren was the last. My wife and I said a silent prayer of thanks.

All the hands were back at work the next morning and this time Darren parked in the underground garage. The snow continued, albeit at a lesser rate, for two more days. Then the weather changed. The warm autumn returned. The snow melted and the grass was greener than before the store. We opened Carousel on time. It got rave reviews.

Thanksgiving would have been a joyous holiday with a plentiful supply of turkeys; except we got another blizzard, albeit, it was just an ordinary blizzard. Not too memorable. Even if it did fall on a holiday.

A word to the wise from one who lived through both of those blizzards: If the autumn is unseasonably nice and a holiday is coming, keep your snow shovel handy and snowblower full of gas; because you never can tell.

November 11the 1940 Blizzard is a seldom remember event in our history books.

November 11th of 1918

Armistice Day/ Remembrance Day/ Veterans Day/ The 11th Day of the 11th Month

Is a day that must live forever in our hearts.

And to all my fellow Vets

Vaya Con Dios

Stay Safe

Get those life saving shots

For your good and the good of your loved ones.

I KNOW NOTHING

HOGAN’S HEROES was a weekly prime sitcom consisting of 168 episodes running from 1965 until 1971. Set in a German POW camp, it’s humor revolved around an inventive group of Allied POW’s outwitting the inept group of German overseers. It scripts and cast continue to amuse us even today on cable.

This reblog is from 2014. While it doesn’t deal with the TV show directly, it hits on my experience of the show’s acceptance on 2 former POWs and also a time Leonard Nimoy asked a question..,and was sorry he did..

One reason for the reblog is the excellent work being done by John Holton in his blog The Sound of One Hand Clapping. After a post on the Allied characters/actors, and another on the German characters/actors, John is writing a complete synopsis of each of the 168 episodes. Fine, entertaining writing, whether or not you are familiar with the show or not.

https://thesoundofonehandtyping.com/hogans-heroes-episode-index/

-Schultz-hogans-heroes-I Know Nooothing

On Memorial day weekend (2014) I read an angry letter posted on the web. The writer, a young (?) Politically Correct activist was railing out against the fact the old TV comedy, HOGAN’S HEROES, was still being shown on cable TV. She felt it was a great disservice to all those who were POW’s of the Germans in WWII. She wanted the series to be hidden away like the old AMOS & ANDY SHOW. In a way I could see her point; but… (It was the first TV show where Black actors had main roles along with the White actors.)

Two of my favorite coworkers at the Guthrie Theatre spent a large part of WWII as prisoners of war in German camps. Chuck Wallen, an American, was a stagehand and set carpenter at the Guthrie. Michael Langham, an Englishman, was the Artistic Director of the theatre. They were in different camps but they both had similar experiences during their years as prisoners.

Chuck, an Air Corps navigator, was on his first bombing run when the plane was shot down. He parachuted out, landed in a cow pasture and broke his back. A village doctor set Chuck’s back as best he could, but the setting would have left Chuck unable to ever stand straight again. A German doctor, seeing the problem, fought red tape and got Chuck to a hospital where the doctor rebroke the back and set it correctly. Chuck spent the rest of the war in a POW camp in Germany, but at least he could stand straight.

Growing up, Michael Langham’s hero was the Duke of Wellington. Because of this, Michael  went to Officers’ Training School where he received an officer’s commission just in time to take part in the final days of the Battle of Dunkirk, namely the retreat to the beach. When the Miracle of Dunkirk was accomplished, Michael was not one of the lucky ones that were transported back to England. He was in the group that missed the boats and were captured by the Germans and placed in a POW camp, where he spent the duration of the war that he really never got to know first hand.

It was the camp where the Great Escape took place, although the tunnel was in a different barracks and Michael was not involved or even aware of what was going on. To kill time in the camp, Michael joined the theatrical group. Sometimes Michael acted, sometimes Michael directed. By the time the camp was liberated, Michael no longer thought of himself as the next Duke of Wellington. Instead, he pursued a career in the theatre, substituting Tyrone Guthrie for the Duke of Wellington as a role model.

It was the years of HOGAN’S HEROES in prime time. The day after each new episode aired, Michael would make his way down to the shop where he and Chuck would spend about a half hour or so going over the episode, laughing and comparing characters on both sides of camp to people in their camps. Since I was working the show the nights the series aired I never got to see it until years later in reruns. Sometimes though when I was working during a day when Chuck and Michael got together, I was privileged to listen to those two reminisce.

So, now when I find myself laughing at the antics of Hogan and the gang, I don’t feel any guilt. After all, two members of the Greatest Generation, who had first hand experience in POW camps laughed at the same antics many years ago.

On the other hand, another favorite acquaintance, Jim Daly, who survived the Bataan Death March and the ensuing years in a POW camp in the Philippines, would not have found anything funny during his hell on earth.

  

We doing a week of VINCENT in Scottsdale, Arizona about nine months after Bob Crane, Hogan of HOGAN’S HEROES, was murdered in this posh city of many rich retirees. Mr. ‘Just Call Me Bob’ Herberger, founder of the Herberger’s department store chain put on a big fete for us at his house. He had enjoyed the play and especially liked the fact that it came from the Guthrie in his home state of Minnesota. I think he spent more time talking with another Minnesota native, namely me, as he did hobnobbing with Leonard Nimoy, the star of VINCENT. It was a fun time with only one slight bump in the road.

Almost all of Mr. Herberger’s invitees were, like him, enjoying their retirement in the land of the sun. There wasn’t a Ford or a Chevy mixed in with the Rolls and Caddies, and although the it was Arizona casual dress, it wasn’t the casual dress wear that came off the rack at a Herberger’s Department Store.

There was one group of men that seemed to hang together. They looked like they could have been extras in THE GODFATHER. Maybe one of them brought the cannoli to the party. A couple of them were more interested in talking to Leonard about Dr. (sic) Spock than about Van Gogh, something that always irritated Leonard; but he remained a gentleman and answered their questions about Spock and STAR TREK as the old timers wanted.

Then Leonard asked them a question. ‘You know, Bob Crane and I use to be friends back in the days we were auditioning for jobs, and then when we both were in hit shows. Hadn’t seen him years though. Now,’ Leonard said in a quiet voice, ‘What’s the real skinny on Crane’s murder?’

You don’t yell fire in a theater, and you don’t ask these old men about murder. Their silence was deafening. They didn’t have to talk. They just gave Nimoy  – the look. Finally one of them spoke up in a raspy whisper. ‘Don’t ask about that guy again around here. You don’t want to know! Understand?’ Leonard nodded and the subject was dropped. He smiled at the group of men and left to get a refill on his Beefeater’s martini.

In the words of Sergeant Schultz, ‘I know nothing.

CHARLES GRODIN – R.I.P.

Actor, Author, Director, Talk Show Guest Extraordinaire, Talk Show Host, Political Activist

And a Great Guy to to be around

In the spring of 1972, Charles Grodin was filming The Heart Break Kid, his first starring picture. He had had a great many small parts in TV and two small roles in movies. He played an inept buffon who turns into a rapist/murderer in Catch 22 and he played the doctor who delivers the ‘Baby’ in Rosemary’s Baby’. Hardly roles that foretold his future as a fine likable comic actor.

In that same spring, I had the pleasure of working for a month or so on the film portion of Heart Break Kid that finished the filming in Minneapolis after filming the first half in Florida. Up until then, I only had a little filming experience in a few TV ads, a local documentary, and two days working a car chase in Slaughter House Five. None of which foretold of the fun I had in spite of working the long hours, the exhausting labor, having to work under three jerks from the New York film local… fun because Charles Grodin brought a great sense of humor and reality to the proceedings.

Charles greeted everyone that came on the set the first time, shaking their hand, asking their name; and he never forgot their name, or failed to talk to them. When things got rough, Charles lightened things up, sometimes with intellectual humor, sometimes with a little corn.

For instance, one day after a hard rain, I was laying out heavy electrical cable, slogging through the mud. It was one of those times I wished I was back home at the Guthrie, which was dark for several months, in spite of the big bucks earned working the movie. Charles walked by and stopped and watched for a bit.

‘Just remember, Don’, he said and he burst into singing, There’s no business like show business’.

I flashed him a one finger salute and he laughed and went on his way still singing the song, ‘They smile when they are low…’

He played to a much larger audience when we were filming the marriage scene. It took place in a small church and the actual minister of the church performed the fake marriage. He thought that being in a movie would be fun. The ‘guests’ in the church had answered an ad asking for extras. They thought being in a movie would be fun. The cast and crew knew different; but we were being paid, they were not.

Elaine May, the director, was in a ‘Cut! Take it again from the top’ mood. After a few cuts, the minister looked at his watch and the audience gave a collective sigh of ‘oh no, not again’.

After another cut, Charles spoke to the guests. ‘See, folks, this is how movies are made. Sometimes filming a scene of a movie marriage lasts longer than some real Hollywood marriages.’ The crowd laughed and settled back. The minister looked at his watch. And Elaine said ‘Take it from the top.’

After a couple more takes we heard the welcome words, ‘That’s a wrap.’ The guests began to leave and the minister looked at his watch again. This time he smiled.

But Charles wasn’t through. ‘Folks. Folks,’ he said, and the guests sat back down. ‘I wanted to explain that our minister isn’t an actor but the actual pastor of this church. And the reason he kept looking at his watch is because in a short time he has a rehearsal of an actual wedding that will take place here on Saturday. He was getting nervous we wouldn’t finish up in time and he also realized that if he flubs his lines at the real wedding, nobody is going to yell ‘Cut. Take it from the top.’ The guests laughed.

Oh,’ Charles added, ‘He also wants you to know that you are welcome to stay and watch the real rehearsal.’ That got a big laugh from both the ‘guests’ and the minister.

Charles was a god- sent for Cybill Shepard. This was only the second movie for Cybill. Her first movie, The Last Picture Show, propelled her into a circle that was totally different from her successful teenage modeling career.. Plus she didn’t have her mentor, and current lover, Peter Bogdanovitch, holding her hand like in her first movie. He wanted to come along with her, but Elaine May said no way. It was also Elaine’s second movie as a director and she didn’t need Bogdanovitch interfering.

In her first movie experience, A New Leaf, she was screenwriter, director, lead actress, and had Walter Matthau as her costar and hand holder. It was critically praised and a tough act to follow.

The only true movie vet in the cast was Eddie Albert. Although his acting background was more in TV than films, he had been nominated for an Oscar seventeen years before. (He would receive and another Oscar nomination for his brilliant performance in Heartbreak Kid.)

Eddie was not on the set when he wasn’t in the scene being filmed. During off hours Eddie was busy catching up with old friends from his college days at the University of Minnesota.

Eddie was more than happy to help Cybill with her acting, but she needed someone to help with her insecurity about acting…and life in general. She was only four years removed from high school. This is where Charles and his humor saved the day. He always managed to get her to relax before a scene by cracking jokes. He also found time to listen and advice her.

And Elaine May was no stranger to his method of easing tension. Both Elaine and her former partner in the great improv- comedic duo of Nichols and May, Mike Nichols had been so impressed when they saw Chuck Grodin on Broadway, that they both used him as soon as they could. Nichols in his Catch 22. May in her Heartbreak Kid.

Both of these roles were great risks to him because of the dark character he portrayed and could have poisoned him with the public and future producers. He took them both in gratitude to Nichols and May for believing in him.

Elaine May soon discovered that not only did he have the talent needed to create his character, Lennie, as a jerk, who would not alienate the movie goers, he was also a wonderful friend to work with. He always seemed to know what to say and when to say it.

The key grip had been involved in the Florida filming. He told me how in the first few days, the screenwriter, Neal Simon, a celebrated veteran of stage and screen, thought he was the last word in this film and tried influence May’s decisions and methods. And also, Peter Bogdanovitch, via phone to both her and Cybill, tried to influence how Cybill should act in her role and how Cybill should be treated.

Elaine stood up to both these men and told them to butt out. And Charles spoke up and backed her ultimatum to these two pests. His actions against these two influential men could have hurt both his movie and his stage career. But he did what he thought was right.

Mission accomplished. Elaine was left to direct her movie and guide Cybill in such a way as to get a fine performance from her, and helped the young actress develop confidence in herself.

Charles Grodin went on to a successful career in movies. Robert De Niro, his costar in Midnight Run, praised Grodin, not only as an actor, but as a funny intellectual person that improved the movie with his suggestions and ad libs. He credited Grodin for making the film a success. And the two became life long friends. I imagine a great many who worked with him agree with De Niro.

Charles excelled in many more fields in the Arts and as an advocate for Human Rights. Sad to say I never had the pleasure of working with him after Heart Break Kid. I would have jumped at the chance to work with him again.

And now we have lost another fine human being who enriched our lives, but left us a fine legacy of his accomplishment… and for lucky ones like me, good memories of having known him.

R.I.P. Charles Grodin.

You can read more about the filming of Heartbreak Kid, in my blog post https://donostertag.wordpress.com/2019/06/19/holy-week-1972/

LAST TRAIN OUT

There was four of us working in the boxcars for the Russian Circus Load Out. There was Joey B., my partner at the Guthrie, and always fun to work with. And an oldtimer, Big Ike. Surly and strong. You overlooked his zero personality because he loved to show off his strength and would always pick up the heaviest thing around. And then there was Mike, our handicap.

Mike was a young apprentice that worked harder to get out of work than if he just did the work. It wasn’t what he wanted in life. His family forced him into being a stagehand like his father and brother. He could screw up a one car funeral procession. His big ambition in life was to be a milkman. He believed in the urban legend that some milkmen delivered more than bottles and butter to lonely women on their route. He did a lot of day dreaming and his dreams always wore skirts.

There were three boxcars waiting for us on the spur. It made sense that the first things loaded were the four bears in their cages. What didn’t make sense was the cages went into the middle car and the cages were open without their metal sides. We couldn’t use the dock because there were the personal steamer trunks and wardrobe boxes clogging up the center of the dock. It was easier just to go through the bears’ car. There was plenty room to walk without a bear actually hitting you with it’s paw, but it still made you jump every time one swung at you.

One of the bear trainers was giving them food and water. Ike bellowed and pointed to the metal sides that were underneath each cage and demanded they be put on the cages. The trainer told Ike nyet and continued his chores. That got Big Ike mad. He swore at the trainer, called him a snuffing Commie and now, not only did we have bears to watch out for, we had an angry Ike.

It didn’t take much to get Ike mad. He’d could get mad at a snuffing falling leaf.

Big Ike only feared one person… his wife. She allowed him to smoke a pipe in the house but not to use vulgar language or drink in the house. He obeyed her rules. Instead of the common swear words, he came up with one of his own, ‘snuff’, complete with all the variations. And he quenched his thirst for whiskey by keeping his jugs of Four Roses out in the garage. Even after his wife died, Ike never used ‘vulgar words’ nor drank in the house but walked out to the garage quite often.

Henri, the French-Canadian road carpenter, my far, far cousin came out with the first load of equipment, to explain what to expect and to introduce us to the Russian stagehand who would, through a very little English and a lot of finger pointing, tell us how the pack went.

Ike got in Henri’s face right away about the snuffing Commie bears.

Henri explained, before he and the trainer left, that the trainers told him the bears would not go to sleep in the dark cages and needed fresh air. He also said that there was something in the food that would put the bears to sleep. That was evident because the two bears that had gobbled down their meal were now curled up in the far corner of their cage fast asleep. The two who did not eat were awake and pacing back and forth in their cages, stopping only to reach out at us when we walked by. Then one of them decided to eat and he went out like a light.

That only left one bear awake to swing at us.

Ike bellowed at bear to eat and go to sleep, but to no avail. The bear seemed to be having too much fun watching us jump every time he pawed at us.

Then, Joey B. figured out that maybe this was the bear that Richie had given cigarettes to, the one that like to chew on tobacco. Joey threw the bear a cigarette. Joe smoked filtered menthols and after the first taste, the bear spit it out and growled.

I quickly reached in my shirt and threw him a straight Pall Mall. That was more like it. I could swear the bear nodded his head to thank me as he chewed on my cigarette.

One problem though, now the bear wanted another cigarette every time he saw us. I said that I wasn’t going to give the bear all my smokes. Big Ike said all he had was pipe tobacco and just enough left in his pouch for two more pipe fills. Joey shrugged and said all his cigarettes did was make the bear angry.

The three of us turned to Mike. We had seen him smoking a roll-you-own when he got out of his car. We told him to roll one for the bear.

Mike thought that would be a great idea. The bear would really like it. He took a paper and his draw-string bag.

Snuff it,’ shouted Big Ike, grabbing the bag out of Mike’s hand, ‘Give him the whole snuffing thing.’ And he threw the bag into the cage.

‘No,’ screamed Mike, ‘That’s a dime bag! That cost a lot of money.’

Ike bellowed, ‘A dime ain’t a lot of money, you snuffing dehorn!’

Then I tried to explain to Ike that dime bag wasn’t tobacco. It was grass. Ike just frowned at me.

Then Joey B. took over the expiation. ‘Grass, Ike. You know wacky-tabaky, Mary Jane, merry-wa-na.’

‘Drugs! You doing snuffing drugs, kid!’ He made a gesture as if to slap Mike. ‘Does your dad know you are a snuffing druggie? You a snuffing hippie beetlenic like Richie? Sit around smoking that snuffing dope and banging on bingo drums. No wonder you’re such a snuffing bad stagehand. Drink whiskey like the rest of us do and straighten up!’

The Russian hand said something and pointed to the bear, who was chewing on the bag. The draw-string hanging out of his mouth. He hadn’t spit out the bag. Instead, he was sitting on his haunches, chewing slowly, looking at us. Joey B. said he was positive the bear had a grin on his face.

The rest of the night, the bear did not move from the spot. Every time we walked by he just looked up, his eyes half shut, chewing slowly on Mike’s dime bag.

‘You know, Joey,’ Ike said, ‘I think the snuffer is grinning.’

As we were wrapping up the load, a train engine backed along the rails to the cars. A car drove up and Henri and the smaller one of the bear trainers got out. The trainer went into the bear car and opened up a sleeping cot. The Russian hand closed all the doors on the sides of the box cars.

Henri thanked thre three hands and his ‘Cousin Donny.’ Mike jumped off the dock and ran to his car. He had told us earlier that there was a girl who promised to leave the door unlocked for him.

The Russian stagehand shook hands with Joey and me and told us pasib.

Big Ike refused to shake hands with a snuffing Commie.

And then he spoke in broken English. ‘Russia, no choo-choo. Trucks. Better.’

‘Another great Russian invention like putting casters on boxes,’ I said, shaking my head. ‘Trucks to haul show biz, not trains. We’ll have to remember that. Pasib. Pasib.’

The engine made a loud bang as it coupled into the first car. The railroad man that had been watching the couple connect, ran and jumped into the engine. He waved at us as the train pulled away.

I turned to Joey B. and Ike and commented that might be the last time any one of us work a train load out.

‘We thought the same things when the last Met Opera train left,’ Joey B. said.

‘Yeah, kid, maybe’ Big Ike said. ‘But the longer you stay in this snuffing business the more you learn to never say never.’

‘Yup,’ Joey B. added, ‘And you never say goodbye to any other stagehand because chances are even if they go far away, someday you’ll probably be working with them again. You say see ya.’

Snuffing right,’ Big Ike agreed, and the three of us said, see ya, and walked to our vehicles.

Joey B. and I had a lot more fun years together until he retired, moved to Ensanada, Mexico, and bought into a fishing boat. Big Ike’s arthritis caught up with him a few years later and he moved to Arizona, hoping the sun would ease the pain. Mike! About a month after the train, his bad stagehanding reached the limit and his father stood up at a union meeting and proposed we take away his son’s apprentice card. Mike moved to California. Never got a milk route but last we heard he was the promoter for an All Girls Celebrity Softball team.

I got in my pickup and watched until the lights of the train disappeared in the early morning darkness.

And in spite of what Big Ike said

that was our Last Train Out.

LAST TRAIN IN

It had been over ten year since a show came into town via the railroad. The notification to the Local that a circus was coming via the rails was a surprise. Our circuses, even big ones like Ringling Brothers. had long since gone over completely to trucks. But then when it said it was the Moscow Circus On Ice, that was coming in retro on us, it wasn’t so surprising… even though Russian shows, like their great ballet companies had traveled by truck in the U.S. for years.

Russian touring companies felt Russia had invented show biz and took forever to adopt improvements in the business. For instance, instead of castors on their road boxes, they had four to six handles to use to hand carry the boxes..

Ve strong in Russia. Ve don’t need those silly little vheels to do our vork.’

But we noticed that these strong Russians were mostly finger-pointers, and they had our stage hands do the heavy lifting.

The first time a Russian show came in with castors on their boxes, they were so proud of ‘their new invention’. Like they say, you can lead a Russian to progress, but you can’t make him think.

I was working shows at the Guthrie; and while I could not work the circus shows, I could work the Load-In and Out. On the In, I never got close to even seeing the train. I was on the prop crew working on the concrete floor of the ice arena of the Minneapolis Auditorium. The entire floor could be an ice rink for ice shows and hockey game, but this time there was only a 20’ by 20’ sheet of ice in the center. That was where the four Russian bears played hockey, the stars of this circus..

Russian bears had been a staple of Russian show biz since even before the balalaika, that musical instrument the Russians invented after seeing some gypsies playing one. Naturally, Russian bears are not quite like our common brown bears. The biggest difference is the head. Russian bears have a slightly different shaped head and a much longer nose. And of course, a Russian would tell you that their bears are much smarter than the average bear.

Another work crew was hollering for assistance. They had a large black circus wagon on the landing just before the ramp down to the arena floor and there were screams of helping to get it to the floor at a reasonable speed. I heard a something about a light dimmer. So I assumed it was an old fashion dimmer pack. Leave it to the Russians to bring back outdated equipment.

As I got close I could see there was an outer metal shell on the four sides and top. I got to the one corner and could see there was solid bars inside. At first I thought I would stick my arm in the crack for a more solid place to push back on. The metal sheets looked to be only attached on the top. But then I decided against it, afraid of getting pinched or worse being trapped if the wagon got away.

On the other corner, Nicky had the same thought about getting something solid. He stuck his arm in the crack.

‘Ah, I wouldn’t do…’screamed one of the hands.

Nicky screamed louder and pulled his arm out. His sleeve was ripped and his arm was bleeding from long scratches.

‘There’s a bear in there,’ a hand shouted… too late.

‘Now you tell us!’ I hollered. ‘Somebody said it was a f#####n light dimmer.’

‘No!’ a hand argued, ‘I said this f####n devil’s not light!’

Chaos! Men screaming at each in English, Russian; and when Henri, the French-Canadian stagehand that was hired on in Montreal, came on the scene, his French overpowered everybody. He was in the smaller Russian trainer’s face, and I could hear the word ‘forklift’ and a lot of French words the oldtimers back home used when they got mad.

Henri was hired for two reasons. He was a liaison between the Russians and the stagehands they would encounter on the tour. And also, he spoke both French and English and the Russian interpreters felt more at home with French than with English.

The local hands were swearing at Russians, the bear, and each other. One banged on a metal sheet covering the cage and the roar of a bear erupted and the cage began to shake. The local hands jumped back. My crew went back down to the arena floor…quickly.

I had helped Nicky to a seat and was standing there while the auditorium nurse was applying first aid. She wrapped the arm and told Nicky that a gofer would take him to the hospital for a tetanus shot.

‘Tell him we will go to my house after,’ Nicky said in a low voice, I’m going to pick up my 30-30. It’s open season on f#####g bears.’ The nurse laughed, but she didn’t know Nicky like we did. We knew Nicky was serious. Westie, the house carpenter, quickly told Nicky to take the rest of the day off…with pay, and get ready for his work in the hotel that night.

Henri got a forklift and backed it in front of each cage to slow them down the ramp. The two Russian trainers spoke to us on the floor and made motions to help take the metal sheets off the cages. They might have not understood what we said back to them, but they understood the one-finger salutes we gave them; and worked on the cages by themselves.

When we helped Henri with his work box I noticed his name, Henri Perron. painted on it. Without thinking, I blurted out, ‘My maternal grandfather’s name is Henry Perron.’

Oh, did Henri get excited. And then he really got excited when I told him about growing up in a small village across the river where several generations ago a large group of French-Canadians, following the fur trade, settled. I mentioned some of the last names, pronouncing them in the way they are pronounced in French and Henri recognized them as names common in Ottawa, Quebec, and all through French Canada..

‘We are cousins, Donny. Not close… but many years back. I am a Perron. You are a Perron from your mother. We are far cousins.’

Very far. The original Perron in Canada was a fisherman from Rochell, France, who came to Ottawa in the 18th Century and was a large propagator, both in marriage and out. The Perrons take up a large amount of the White Pages in Ontario. The name dominates the providence like the name Jones dominates the United States.

I broke a cardinal rule. In the Army you never tell the mess sergeant your name or you will be the brunt of the jobs on KP simply because he calls names he knows. The same is true for a road stagehand. Never tell a roadie your name. Now Henri not only knew my name, he considered himself family.

After lunch he approached me. ‘Cousin Donny, I am told you are a very good rigger. I need you for a special job. I need you to rig the trapeze. The artist’s rig does not go that high so you rig these two cables I made up when I found out that the beam here was one hundred feet up.’

I told him I never heard of a trapeze artist who would let someone else rig his trapeze. Oh, Henri explained that the artist would rig his swing on the cables I rigged. I said that he would still depend on my rigging as well as his own. I thought he should rig the long cables also just to be safe.

‘Well,’ Henri said in a low voice, ‘I think he is scared to go up that high.’

We set up the house contraption to get me up that high. The darn thing went up in ten feet sections, then would pause and shake a bit before spitting up the next ten feet. I hated it!

They sent Jimmy, the Guthrie prop builder, along to help me. He quickly huddled in a corner of the cage and when we reached the correct height, he begged me to just let him stay in the corner. He was breathing fast and deep. I was afraid he would hyperventilate on me I told him to just relax. I didn’t have a paper bag he could breath into. And we both agree mouth to mouth was out of the question.

Rigging the cables was a snap compared to the ride up.

Rig a trapeze! A lot of responsibility! After that, I had a lot more respect for the parachute packers that rigged the chutes we jumped with. One big difference is the packers always have to jump a chute they packed and I wasn’t about to swing from the trapeze I rigged.

Once on the Camping Exposition In, Joey B. and I were on the high beams working while a young trapeze artist was rigging his swing. Joey commented that swinging on a trapeze was a hell of a way to make a buck. The kid said it beat the hell of the last job he had before working a trapeze.

I got shot out of the cannon,’ he said, very matter-of-fact.

Every day of that Russian Circus week I kept checked the news, praying I would not hear that the trapeze failed and the artist fell. When I didn’t hear anything, it made my day, believe me.

A couple of the shop hands at the Guthrie worked the nightly circus shows, and wished they didn’t.

There were very few cues to work, but everyone worked the one big one during the bears’ hockey game. They were spaced out on the outside of the ice rink. Each hand was given a lead pipe. If a bear decided it wanted to leave the rink, the man closest was to hit the bear on the nose with the pipe.

Luckily during the local run the bears behaved.

A few years later when Henri came through with the Canadian Ballet he told how on the next stop, Chicago, the ice never got made the first day. The bears got sent out on the bare concrete to play hockey. One of the bears panicked and decided to leave the ‘rink’. The stagehand closest to the bear, stood up, threw the pipe hitting the bear in the nose, then turned and ran out of the building. He never stopped and never came back for any other performances or the Out.

‘I think he maybe still running,’ Henri said. ‘Didn’t even look around and see his pipe made the bear behave.’

A lead pipe to a Russian bear trainer is the equivalent of a whip and chair to a lion tamer.

BAP! Hit the bear on the nose with the pipe to get it’s attention.

BAP! Hit the bear on the nose to make it sit down.

BAP! Hit the bear on the nose before putting the skate on the bear’s foot.

Twenty years later I worked a different kind of Russian circus that featured trained bears. No hockey game just tricks like a bear on a unicycle and several bears wearing tutus and ‘ballet’ dancing. Same as before, the lead pipe, bap, bap, bap. All a person could do from taking the pipe and hitting the trainer on the nose.

When we were setting up that first day, one of our hands, Matt, showed you didn’t need a pipe to make a bear behave. Matt wasn’t paying any attention, a trait he excelled in, and he backed too close to a bear in the cage. Matt stopped and the bear reached through the bars and placed it’s paw on Matt’s shoulder. Matt turned his head, and having grown up on the Iron Range, had a lot of experience with bears, he slapped the bear’s paw away. Then Matt commenced to shout at the animal in Croatian. Matt didn’t move from the cage. It was the bear who jumped back and retreated to a far corner, away from this crazy man.

The bears did have a high degree of intelligence. Richie, the local’s hippie, liked the looks of the large red apples the bears got for a treat. He gave the friendliest bear a cigarette to eat. The bear loved it. Then Richie offered the bear another…only in exchange for the bear’s apple. It was a deal. When the bear got another apple it held on to it until it saw Richie and then would offer the apple to Richie in exchange for a cigarette.

The one Russian trainer saw what was happening and he offered to exchange an apple for two American cigarettes. Richie ate a lot of apples that week and made two new friends.

And now if you will ‘bear’ with me until the next post

I will tell what happened on

The Last Train Out

MEMORIES OF PRINCE

PRINCE IS DEAD AT AGE 57!

( Last April 26 was the 5th anniversary of his death. Had he lived he would be 62 today. Mind boggling! Here’s some bits and pieces from the 2 blog posts, Strangers on The Stage and Purple Pain, both in Stage Hand category, that I wrote about working Prince Roger Nelson, aka the Symbol, the Slave, Skippy, and other names this eccentric genius dubbed himself; but to his fans and admirers he was and is PRINCE.

What shock! I first worked him 45+ years ago. Watched him grow from a self-assured teenager to a world famous Hall of Fame musician, singer, songwriter, actor, musical innovator and creator of a new genre of music.  Always his own man, always stuck to his roots. Born and raised on the north side of Minneapolis, spent his adult life in his purple fenced home and recording studio, Paisley Park, a few miles from his first home and his youthful friends. (And made a lot of money for the stage hands in his area.)

His tours were some of the biggest on the road, and yet he gave concerts, some announced, some impromptu, for his fans at small familiar venues like First Avenue and Paisley Park. His roots. His fans.

He left behind a great legacy of music and memories for people all over the world. And even today his genius is springing  out with ‘new’ works that was never made public before.

young prince

The first time I worked Prince was in the early 70’s. There was a benefit at the Orpheum and Prince Nelson was one of the many performers. There already had been a lot of buzz about this young talent. He was somewhere in the middle of the card. The acts that followed him, didn’t stand a chance. Everybody present, especially Prince, knew that this youngster could be Big Time.

(I stand corrected. I worked him when he earlier when he was studying classic ballet, on a grant, with MN Dance and he was a one of a multitude of little dancers in Loyce Holton’s NUTCRACKER.)

And it didn’t take him long to prove everybody right. Unlike the other Minnesota musical phenom, Robert Zimmerman, a.k.a. Bob Dylan, who paid his dues working small coffee shops in Minneapolis and New York for years before he was recognized, Prince Nelson, a.k.a. Prince, hit the ground running. He released his debut album when he was only 20. Less than a year later, his second album went platinum. And unlike so many others born in ‘fly-over country’, Prince kept his base in his homeland, rather than moving to the glamour cities of the coasts. As a result he generated a lot of opportunities and wages for the locals.

I worked Prince in concerts, benefits, rehearsals, but the longest stint came with the PURPLE RAIN tour production tech in the fall of 84. Prince was at the top. His single, PURPLE RAIN, was arguably his best single. His album, PURPLE RAIN, was arguably his best album. And his movie, PURPLE RAIN, was his first movie and would turn out to be his  best movie, not argument on that one. And he wanted the PURPLE RAIN tour to be his best.

the kid

The set would be one of the biggest ever to tour the arenas. It was the first one, that I know about, where the set was constructed downstage in the arena, while the lights and sound were being hung. Then the set was rolled by a very large crew to it’s proper position. It was two-tiered with plenty of ramps to dance on and had three scissor lifts to add to the excitement.

(I was local head carpenter from the first; and because the tour carpenter was busy working out the logistics of the coming tour, I was the local head carp even when we went into the St. Paul jurisdiction. I, and several of my favorite hands, sons and nephews, put up the complicated set in every move and worked all the rehearsals also. By the time the 4 weeks were up we knew more than the road carpenter concerning the set.)

To further enhance his tour, his second front act was Sheila E, another of his many protégés and one of his main squeezes at the time. Sheila E was already a much sought after percussionist with stints with names like Lionel Richie, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross.

She also had the very sexist title of the best female drummer in the land. When Prince ‘discovered’ her, he got her a recording contract and wrote two songs for her to sing, THE GLAMOROUS LIFE, the title song of her first album, and THE BELLE OF ST. MARK, both of which cracked the charts.

His first front act was a girl trio, Apollonia 6, featuring Apollonia, his co-star in the PURPLE RAIN movie. It started out as a replacement for Vanity 6, when Vanity went out on her own. The trio’s act on the tour was short to begin with, and got shorter when Prince decided that Apollonia was pretty, but really couldn’t sing any better than she could act.

For me, the tour production was four weeks of long, long days. In the four weeks I might have had a full eight hours of sleep two or three times. Several times worked around the clock, once for 48 hours before I had a chance to sleep for a few hours on packing blankets. We started the production at the Met Sports Arena, then moved to the Minneapolis Auditorium, over to the St. Paul Civic Center, and finished out back at the Met. Big money, but a lot of hard work and a lot of pain. Although offered a job on the tour itself, I said no way and was elated when we shut the door on the last truck on the way to Detroit to begin the tour itself. Purple Rain. No! Purple pain – for a lot of us.

Prince himself got me good one day. I was walking in the circular hallway around the arena at the Met. All of a sudden I heard, ‘Stop! Watch out!’ Luckily, before I had a chance to turn and maybe get hurt worse, something hit me in the back of the legs. I was prevented from falling forward by a set of arms and legs. I fell backwards onto a road box.

‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry! Are you okay? I’m sorry!’ I looked up into the face of the apologizing Prince. I told him I was okay.

‘Good’, said a voice coming from beneath me. ‘But darn, you’re heavy.’ I looked around and saw the face of Sheila E. I had ended up sitting in her lap. Now it was my turn to apologize. I quickly got off her.

It seems that His Purpleness wanted to have some fun and got Sheila E to sit on the front of the road box. Then, head down, he pushed the box as fast as his short legs could pump. They rounded a curve – and there I was. Not too much damage to me, except a purple, naturally, bruise on the back of my legs. They turned the box around and laughingly continued their fun in the opposite direction. While I limped back down the hall.

(Prince was also a very good athlete in high school. I know he loved to play basketball. The net and stand was one of the first things that we put up at his rehearsals, He was always the shortest in games with anyone who wanted to play, but he was the best dribbler and a good shot.)

Prince laid down the law as regards the tour, he would not tolerate any drug use whatsoever. Musicians, roadies, security force, nobody. He refused to hire as one of his many body guards, ex wrestler, a future governor of MN, Jesse The Body Ventura because Jesse was reported to have a drug background while wrestling.

(Ironic that Prince would die of an overdose of pain pills, considering his hatred for drugs; but I know he must have had great pain in his older years. He never spared his body, leaping around the stage and even off of it during his performances. And certainly the incident that happened one night at a Purple Rain rehearsal, the one that I tell about in the cartoon below contributed a great deal to his future pain.)

Like I pointed out, the rehearsal for the tour took a lot out of people. Made them do things they wouldn’t do if they weren’t tired. Even Prince suffered because of rehearsal fatigue. Like the last week, a few days left to wrap up the rehearsal and take the show on the road…. But rather than me writing about it, the talented Joel Orf drew a cartoon of the incident that my alter ego, The Old Hand, related to him. That character in the hat is me wearing my ‘trademark hat’. (Click on it to enlarge.)

Prince tour

I was on my knees in a downstage wing paging a mic for Patti LaBelle. Her concerts were always very fine, except her set belonged in an arena, not a theater. Very crowded on stage. And since wireless mics were still unreliable, a stagehand was needed to page the cable to keep it from tangling in a set piece. You have to concentrate. For that reason I didn’t realize that there were people in the wing with me until they had me surrounded.

I saw a short pair of legs clad in tight purple pants. I didn’t have to even look up to know it was Prince.

The second pair of legs were much longer and much more interesting.. The right leg was clad in a conventional tight, but the left leg was naked up to the short shorts. I knew it was Sheila E. That quirky bit of wardrobe was designed especially by Prince for her.

The third pair were longer still. Both legs naked. The shorts, shorter still. The blouse so tight you could see, even in the darkness of the wing, there was no bra underneath. It was Kim Basinger.

Prince might have been short in stature, but he more than make up for it in self-confidence. Not many men would dare attend a concert with both an ex-girlfriend and a current girlfriend. Or maybe it was a current girlfriend and an about-to-be ex-girlfriend, maybe two current girlfriends.

But that was Prince, The Artist Formally Known as Prince, The Love Symbol. And for all I knew, Madonna, Carmen Electra, Vanity, etc., etc., etc., might all have been at Paisley Park waiting for the three of them to return so they could all ‘party like it it’s 1999‘.

A few of my memories of the little man, the giant musician.

His Purple Highness

  

               

JOAN OF ARTS @ THE G

mondale family

On 4/19/2021 we lost a much admired man, Walter Mondale. He spent many of his 93 years working in public service. He epitomized what a politician should be, honest, hard working, dedicated not only to his views, but mindful of the views of others. He held many public offices including U.S. Senator and Vice President.

The son of a preacher man, he was religious in the true sense. Rather than preaching his religion to others, he practiced his religion in deeds. He cared. He was a role model for many and admired even by those who did not share his political agenda. He was a devoted family man

He stuck by his views both in talk and deeds. For instance, he was a strong advocate for the ERA rights Amendment, equal rights fort women. He was the first U.S. presidential candidate to select a woman, Geraldine Ferraro, as his running mate.

I never had the pleasure of working Walter Monday, but I did have a delightful time with his wife, Joan, and two of his children, Eleanor and William. This is the blog post I wrote shortly after Joan Mondale died on 2/3/2014.

Because Walter Mondale had been out of the national limelight for a while, the death of his wife, Joan, received only a slight notice in the press outside of Minnesota. Mostly tied in with the fact she was the wife of Walter, ‘Fritz’, Mondale.   She deserved more than that just on the basis of her own life.

She was an artist, author, and patron and defender the Arts. She was dubbed Joan of Art, by the national press. Many of the her projects, such as establishing a gallery of American Artists, in the Vice Presidential Mansion are still monuments to her work in the Arts.

My encounter with Joan Mondale took place when her husband was campaigning for the Vice Presidency under Jimmy Carter, and I was working at the Guthrie Theater.

 She was attending a gala at the Walker Art Center, which was attached to the Guthrie. Her two youngest children, Eleanor and William, teenagers at the time, wanted to see the play at the Guthrie instead going to the hoopla.

Jon, the Guthrie Production Stage Manager, brought them up to the booth and told us the two kids would be watching the play from the booth. He showed some chairs to the left of the stage manager. Eleanor, noticing the chair to the right of my lighting board, announced she was going to sit there. Jon managed to crack a smile and as he went to leave, he commented that if they had any questions, ‘Just ask Don. He’s our resident babysitter.’ He was referring to the fact that I often brought children to watch the shows from the chair Eleanor had taken, something he really didn’t approve of.

‘What’s he? The resident clown?,’ Eleanor asked me, loud enough for Jon to hear as he walked to the door.

At intermission, William had many questions. When I explained how the lighting board worked and he said he thought I had a ‘cool’ job. Eleanor said she was going to be an actress; and after she made it big in the movies, she would come back and act at the Guthrie. William rolled his eyes. I certainly couldn’t disagree with her. She seemed to be a young lady who would work hard for what she wanted.

When the play finished I had some work to do in the attic, to prepare for a different play the next evening. William asked if he could go along and I said come on

He and Eleanor followed me up the ladder to the catwalks where I changed some gel colors and replugged some lighting instruments. I brought them down into some lighting coves and showed how the lights were pointed to a specific area on the stage. We could see Joey B. and the shifting crew working below, changing one set for the other. William thought that was ‘cool’ also.

Jon walked on stage with Mrs. Mondale. He hollered at me, telling me Mrs. Mondale was here for the children and wanted to know where they were. At the mention of ‘the children’, Eleanor muttered, ‘The clown in residence!’ I hollered down that they were with me in the attic and we’d be down in a few minutes.

At the mention of the two being up top with me, Jon began to bellow. How could I be so crazy as to place the children of the next Vice President of the United States in danger? The two kids both shouted to tell their mother that it wasn’t dangerous. Jon kept it up. I bellowed back that if it was so dangerous, maybe I should be drawing hazardous duty pay along with my wages. I could hear Joey B. and the shifting crew laugh.

When the three of us made it down to the stage, Jon kept up his harangue. How could I make Mrs. Mondale wait? She’s got important things to do. She was too important to have to wait on me. I should apologize to her for making her wait and for placing her children in danger. And if he had known that I was going to screw up so bad, he would have babysat the children himself. Both Eleanor and William came to my defense, and Mrs. Mondale said she didn’t mind waiting.

   Jon didn’t seem to hear them. He was having too much fun showing off. He knew I wouldn’t give him an argument in front of the Mondales. Joey B. and the shifters weren’t too sure though, and they stopped working and waited for me to order Jon off the stage. He was crossing too many lines, including the fact he was acting like he was my boss, which he wasn’t.

He was also upsetting Eleanor; and she began to walk toward him, when her mother stopped her. Then, Mrs. Mondale shook my hand and thanked me for giving her children an experience in theater that they would never forget. And she added, ‘If I didn’t have high-heels on, I would ask you to take me up and show me the catwalks.’

Then she turned to Jon, the silent one, and she commented, ‘Do you have any teenagers, Jon?’

‘Ah, no. I don’t have any children.’

I thought as much,’ she said, and went off stage, followed by the children, into the center aisle that led to the lobby. She turned and waved goodbye to Joey B. and the shifting crew. So did Eleanor and William, who both hollered out thanks to me. Jon followed.

‘Hey, Jon,’ I shouted, ‘When you can, come on back. You and me have to talk.’ Joey B. and the  shifters laughed; but Jon didn’t acknowledge my request. In fact, he stayed out of my way for several days.

Joan Mondale was a ‘dutiful’ political wife. She did everything right as her husband, Walter, rose from Minnesota Attorney General, to U.S. Senator, U.S Vice President, Democratic nominee for President, Ambassador to Japan.

Well, she did have one glitch. In an interview, she requested that she not be asked, like most politicians’ wives, what her favorite recipe was. To atone for this supposed slam at American homemakers, she quickly released a book containing ‘all her favorite recipes’, her PR people thought would go well with the Mrs. Cleavers of America.

And she suffered when Walter was trounced by Ronald Reagan in election of 1984. And years later when he was nosed out by Norm Coleman in the race for the U.S Senate vacated by the death of Paul Wellstone, just eleven days prior to the election.

Joan Mondale, the mother, saw her three children become successful. Both Ted and William went into the political and private sectors. Eleanor, as she promised, tried Hollywood, and then into talk radio in Chicago and later Minneapolis. She was a tabloid celeb, dubbed the ‘wild child’. Then at the age of 40, Eleanor was diagnosed with brain cancer. She fought it for 11 years and died at the age of 51. Every time I think of Eleanor, I remember her comment, ‘Who is he? The resident clown?’

And now reading about the death of Joan Mondale, I remember a kind and intelligent woman, a politician in her own right, and a good mother. And often wished she had changed her shoes and came back to the Guthrie so I could have given her a tour of the Guthrie catwalks.

TRUCKING – LOL

Tex was a Clark driver for the first several years of trucking the Met Opera Spring Tour. Large and loud. He always entered the stagehand’s room with ‘Relax yo’all, old Tex is in the theater!’ He dressed the part…Stetson, boots, giant belt buckle. Some of the hands bought his shtick.

I thought it overdone. His wardrobe was too much and his accent too thick. He reminded me of a owner/’actor’ on those TV ads for used car lots.

This particular time he got in the room before the opera started. We were going to throw out the scenery of the first act at first intermission and Tex would take it to storage in New York. He grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down, carrying on with his usual palaver. But when one of the truck loaders came in and motioned to Steve, the Met’s Head Carpenter, to come outside, Tex stopped talking and started fidgeting.

Steve came back in the room and you could see he was mad. ‘What is that goddamn stink in your trailer?’ he asked, standing over Tex. ‘It smells like s**t!’

Tex made an effort to stand but Steve pushed him back. ‘You were sandbagging with the truck, weren’t you?’

‘Well, Steve.’I had three free days and an empty truck…’

‘So what did you do, rent it out for a Portable Potty?

‘Ah, Steve,’ Tex argued, ‘I’d never do such a thing. I just helped out an old boy who needed help getting a few pigs to the stockyards.’

‘Pigs! Pigs!,’ Steve screamed. They heard him backstage but the orchestra was playing the Overture and nobody on stage or in the house heard the yelling.

‘Come on, Steve, old son,’ Tex said in a low voice. ‘There wasn’t but a couple dozen or so and they weren’t no big old fat-backs. They were prime bacon. Hardly more than piglets.’

Steve slapped the Stetson off the head of Tex. ‘Just little piggies! You should have put diapers on them then. If I could I’d call for a different rig, but it’s too late now. When I get back to the Met Warehouse I’m going to smell that set and if it smells the least bit like pig s**t, Clark is going to get a bill for a new set.’

‘Ah, old son,’ Tex argued, ‘It’ll be aired out by the time the load is in. I pressured washed the inside of the trailer twice. What you smell…

‘What I smell, old son…of a,’ Steve stopped and told Tex to go in the truck.

We loaded it and only two of the loaders had to come out for air. The other two lived in So. St. Paul where most of the city carried the smell from the stockyards where Tex had delivered those little piggies.

The next spring tour nobody dared ask Steve if the set still stunk when he checked it out in the warehouse. And we never saw Tex driving for Clark again. Although some years later one of hands said he was positive that was Tex driving the roadie bus for ZZ Top.

*

Back in the day, before cell phones, truckers had to rely on land lines and CB radio within their range. We were at coffee in the stagehands’ room at the Orpheum when a trucker came in and asked to use the phone. ‘Long distance to my office. I’ll reverse the charges,’ he explained.

Got the call to go to Milwaukee and get this truck to Minneapolis Orpheum. The regular driver took sick and by the time I got there, the other trucks were loaded and long gone. Headed out on my own. Now I’m told by crew upstairs, this truck doesn’t belong here. Probably some other theater in town.’

I told him that I was the union BA and I knew this was the only show in town that day…but maybe in St. Paul.

We got his side of the conversation as he explained to the office…and then he shouted, ‘Indianapolis!!! I thought they said, Minneapolis!!!’

He slammed the phone down, drank the coffee we offered him, and stomped off to his truck.

*

Overheard two truckers talking while we were loading their trucks.

‘How long is it going to take to get to Winnipeg?’

“Well the book says 474 miles. Good highways… so depending on how long we get held up in customs, should be there in 7 or 8 hours. We’ll make the call on time and won’t even have to cheat with the second log book.”

‘There you go now; but you forget once you hit Canada, they don’t have miles anymore. They got kilometers. And kilometers are bigger than miles. So it’s going to take us longer.’ He gave the other driver a smug smile.

The second driver just shook his head….

*

Skippy was innocent in creating this fiasco but Skippy was the one who got the brunt of the hurt.

Skippy was Head Carpenter of one of three Sesame Street Live companies touring .He also drove one of the trucks. Earlier he had wrapped up the tour and had put the set to sleep in the warehouse. After several months without a day off, he had ten days of doing nothing before he would have to start working the production of his next tour.

Before going home, he detoured and picked up a couple movies at Block Busters. (Two of my favorite Judy Garland and Mickey Rooneys) He had one loaded to go and the popcorn was just starting to pop, when the phone rang. Rather than burn the popcorn, he gave a middle finger salute to the annoyance and let the message go to Voice Mail.

‘Skippy! Skippy!’ It was Vince Egan, the owner of Sesame Street Live shows. ‘

When Vince speaks, people listen. (I grabbed the phone and listened to Vince’s orders. Oh, I could smell the popcorn burning.)

‘The actor that plays Oscar the Grouch on the #3 show tour dislocated his shoulder. He also drives the second truck. It’s his left should so he could still sit in the trash can and work Oscar, (Darn! I always wanted to play Oscar. I know I would be a good one.); but you have to fly out and get the truck to the next stop, Atlanta. The office has your plane ticket waiting for you. Get to the airport fast .Hey keep a record of what you spend and remember, it’s my dime you’re riding. ’

Skippy called for a cab, threw the burnt popcorn out the windows for the birds, grabbed his to-go bag, and went outside to wait for the cab.

(I had no idea where I was flying to. I hoped it wasn’t too far from Atlanta. And when I looked at the ticket and saw I was on my way to Charleston, West Virginia, I hoped the town was still open when I got there.)

When the red eye landed at 2 A.M., there was one cab at the airport. Skippy woke up the cabbie and told him to go to the arena or theater where Sesame Street Live was playing.

(He argued, said there was no TV show in town. I tried to explain to him it was a live show and he said he knew all about it. His kids watched it when they were little; but there still ain’t no TV show in town.)

Skippy had the cabbie drive all around to where a show like Sesame Street could have played…if it had been in town.

(Nothing. I hated to admit it to cabbie, but he was right. I asked if there was a McDonalds open but he said they closed hours ago. I asked about a motel, but he said the only ones he knew would be open this time of night, rented by the hour. We settled on going back to the airport and hoped there was some vending machines still open. I gave the driver a big tip…after all it was Vince’s dime.)

Vince did not like to be woken that time of night. When he finished his tirade and calmed down enough to listen, he hit the roof again when Skippy told him he could not find the truck anyplace in Charleston, West Virginia.

‘West Virginia! West Virginia! What the hell are you doing there? You should be in Charleston, South Carolina.! And he continued to rant.

(Oh, I hated that. Like it was my fault. I finallty got a word in edgewise and reminded him I only flew to the wrong Charleston because that’s where the ticket was for. And he lowered his voice when I explained that I was watching the expenses on his dime by not going to a motel but sleeping at the airport instead. Didn’t bother to mention, I heard the motel didn’t change sheets very often.)

The cabbie in the next Charleston knew exactly where the truck would be. The head carpenter had made the merchandise peddler drive the second set truck to make sure the show got up in time, and the truck Skippy picked up was the merch truck which didn’t have to be in Atlanta until the next day.

(First thing before I got in the truck, I got the cabbie to take me to the best steakhouse in the city. After all I wqs riding on Vince’s dime.),

TRUCKING IN THE BIZ

Trucks are as much a staple of today’s show business as computers and exorbitant ticket prices.

The first use of a truck as the sole transportation of a Broadway show was in 1949 when the hit show, Mr. Roberts., went on a national tour. But the transformation of trucks as the prime mover in show business didn’t happen overnight.

The standard method for the moving of scenery and equipment centered around railroads. The traveling shows used horse and wagons and then graduated to trucks to get everything from the theater to the boxcars and from the boxcars to the next theater. Railroads had a made big investments in spurs, side tracks where boxcars could be taken off the main rails and left to sit while they were loaded and unloaded, building them convenient to theater districts in the large cities.

For the most part the system worked, and producers were reluctant to change even though trucks as sole transportation eliminated the cost of double handling and having to book trucks in two cities. It served the major cities of the east and even extended as far west as Chicago. The consensus was they could not sell many tickets in the ‘lesser’ cities, like ‘Peoria’, cities that had no railroad spurs for show business.

The interstate highway system we take for granted today did not begin in earnest in 1956. People might have ‘got their kicks on Route 66’, the main road to the west coast, but their kicks involved a lot of driving on narrow unpaved sections of road and found that gas stations and diners far far apart. Taxing the people for good highways was out of the question, a socialist idea.. Therefore, the winning reason for our interstate highway system was we needed good roads to transport missiles needed to fight the Cold War. And the highway system that changed the face of America was begun… even though the overpasses were too low to allow missiles in transport to pass under.

Also the modern diesel engine that is the standard in the trucking industry wasn’t introduced until 1964. It rapidly replaced the fleets of gasoline straight-trucks with 18 wheelers tractor-trailers which hauled much more freight and cut back on the cost of fuel and drivers.

Clark Transfer, the company that took Mr. Roberts on that first tour, was well established around the Philadelphia area as it had trucked theatrical posters and such for years. TV Guide started in the Philadelphia area and Clark was it’s trucking company to carry the increasingly popular magazine to major cities in the northeast.

The company, after the success of the Mr. Roberts’ tour continued to press the idea of live shows being trucked across the country. In 1954 they had eleven shows on the road. Oklahoma and Guys and Dolls were the big musicals of the day and Clark brought them to cities that would never get them because of the lack of a railroad spur. These tours proved that even the ‘lesser’ cities, like Peoria, were well worth stopping at. Clark also hauled some legit shows, several large ballet companies, and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Up to the early 60’s, these tours were basically one truck and one bus. Then there was a big mistake made in the Met Opera Spring Tour. The railroad took the opera sets for Norma to Memphis instead for Atlanta. Clark had trucks with the tour that were used to get the sets to and from the theater to the trains, and Clark came to the rescue. Charlie Hackett, Clark’s main teamster, took a truck to Memphis and brought Norma to the theater in Atlanta and the show opened just a half hour late, a feat that impressed Sir Rudolph Bing, the artistic head of the Met Opera, and Joe Volpe, the head carpenter of the Met, who would go on to replace Rudolph Bing as the Met’s artistic head.

Volpe took two major steps prior to the next tour. He told the railroad ‘forget it’ and hired Clark Transfer to do all the moving from city to city for the Spring Tour. Charlie Hackett was in charge of the forty to seventy truckloads needed to put on the seven different operas in a six day period. That masterful juggling of trucks foreshadowed the multi- trucks extravaganzas of today’s overproduced and overpriced shows like Phantom, Les Miz, and the many modern ‘operas’ of Andrew Lloyd Weber and others that are so popular today.

Northrop Auditorium of the U of Minnesota was the keystone of the Met’s spring tour since the inception in 1945. It’s almost 5,000 seat were sold out for each of the operas into the mid 1980’s. It is also where I first began my show business career. I came the second year of the change to trucks so I never worked the rail travel of the Met or any other traveling shows…except one, which I will write about in coming posts.

And just as a mistake with the Met Opera that changed the way a segment of show business traveled, a mistake in the Beatles first tour of the U.S. opened the door to the overproduced and overpriced rock/pop/country concerts and festivals with their multitude of semis trucking them to major cities, ballparks, farm pastures and the like… semis that carry staging, lights, sound and more sound, even musical instruments, and of course the swag, overpriced tee shirts etc..

In 1964 the Beatles came to the US with performances at Carnegie Hall, Washington D.C. ballpark and on the Ed Sullivan Show. Their fans demanded more. In 1965 the Fab Four performed 32 sold-out shows in 26 venues in just 33 days all across the U.S.. While their screaming fans, from teeny- boppers to housewives, didn’t care if the shows were for the most part technical disasters, the industry noticed both the vast potential of this expansion of the music industry and the fact that the technical atrocities of the tour had to be addressed if it would succeed without the need of the tsunami of Beatlemania.

The tour had been organized by a New York corporation; but the local promoters in each venue were responsible for the stages, lights, and sound, which were handled by local companies that had no experience in large venues. Some outdoor venues, like Minneapolis, put stages put in the center of the field with the audience surrounding the performers who moved their sets four times each performance to face another segment of the audience. Lighting was weak.. often relying on a couple of carbon-arc spots lights too far away to do a decent job.

And the sound!!! Forget it! The squeals of the audience mixed with the feedback of the speakers drowned out the weak sound systems. The audience knew all the songs by heart and sang along. Nobody demanded their money back… but not all concerts would feature an act like the Beatles.

The logical solution was to supply the right staging, lighting, sound and experienced technicians and the idea of trucks to move everything from venue to venue. Now even small town America, like Peoria, could pay outlandish prices to see the same live music as large city audiences enjoyed.

Trucks brought much needed work to stagehand locals that had lost so much when vaudeville died.

Clark Transfer took a stab at getting into the rock and roll trucking; but the pop music industry had always been a cut-throat business, singers, musicians, composers were cheated out of their rightful dues, and the eruption of this music in the 50’ and 60’s amplified the no-holds-barred way of business. Clark backed off and stuck with the stable business methods of the ‘fine arts’, leaving rock and roll trucking to small, often one- owner-one-truck, outfits. These were soon gobbled up by large corporations that also got into other aspects of the business, like promoting, oversupplying equipment, providing roadies at cheap wages, tying up artists and their works, selling expensive tickets and adding surcharges, etc.. But the music public must not mind it because…

And these corporations, for the most part, no longer own their own fleet of trucks. Now most of the show business trucking is done by owner-operators with the companies acting as an agent to give work to the least expensive truckers. This gives the blue collar the romantic aura of ‘independence’, he desires, and the white collar still has control and greater profits, he desires. But the music truckers must not mind because…

Another growth aspect is husband and wife owner-operators. One drives while the other sleeps. The shows gets to the next venue in time without the practice of keeping two log books, one to show the boss, one to show the highway cops. And the only losers are the prostitutes working the truck stops.

And now that I have bitten the hand that fed me and my family for so long, I would add that show biz trucking has given me a lot to laugh about. Stay tuned for some of the laughs.

And Stay Safe.

NIMOY’S 48TH BIRTHDAY

The VINCENT tour was in Aurora, Illinois, an outer most suburb of Chicago. We had been looking forward to a full theatrical week, six evening, two matinee performances, at the recently remodeled Paramount Theater, an old vaudeville/movie theater converted to a live entertainment venue. That week was going to be the one that would help monetary- wise for the many benefits and small theaters we had on the tour. To insure good houses for the week, a Public Relations man was hired to make Chicago and the environs aware of the show.

The young man hired was the nephew of somebody the Nimoys knew. After he was hired, he confessed he was a cub in the PR business in fact this would be his first PR gig. But Leonard kept him on. After all it was Chicago, a great city for the Arts. It wasn’t so much of selling the show, just getting the word out.

The closer we got to the that week though, the worse the news, as far as ticket sales and interviews, was.

The manager of the Paramount suggested getting a Chicago PR firm, pointing out that the Cub, as he referred to the young man, wasn’t cutting it. He said had made several suggestions as to where the Cub should be working; but the Cub stuck mostly at the Student Center at Northwestern University, more interested in chatting up the coeds than selling the show.

By the time the week arrived the eight shows hoped for was down to four evening performances.

I set up the show on Monday as planned even though the 1st performance wasn’t until Thursday.

Leonard had an interview, the only one, that day on the radio station of Columbia College of Chicago. The Cub picked Leonard and his wife, Sandy, up in a limousine driven by a young woman that looked more like a model than a limo driver. The Nimoys were placed in the back seat. Cubby made sure he sat in the front next to the driver. Sandy said that once he introduced them to the radio host, Calley Nelson, he made a quick exit to ‘keep the limo driver company’. The Nimoys got first hand knowledge of what the Cub’s main interest in show biz was…trying to pick up girls.

Before Sandy had left for the radio station she stopped at the theater to remind me that it was Leonard’s birthday and there was a private celebratory dinner that evening in a restaurant close to the hotel. And she warned, nothing fancy, just dress casual, and no gifts. In short, it was like so many meals the company had together on the tour. There would be only three outsiders, the manager of the Paramount, the Cub, and Art Park, an old friend of Leonard’s, who lived in near Aurora. She assured me we would not have to sing Happy Birthday.

When I got to the party, Leonard hurried over to me to ask how the Set-Up went. ‘Piece of cake,’ I told him. ‘Good crew. How did your interview go?’

He smiled. ‘Piece of cake. The emcee went over the ground rules with me and the small audience. A little about acting in general. A lot about VINCENT in particular. Everybody stuck with it. Not once was there any damn questions like “‘does Spock die in the movie”.

Once we sat down and ordered drinks, Leonard introduced us to his friend, Art Parks. He said Art was a foremost graphic arts designer and the man who created the Bunny logo for Playboy Magazine.

‘Playboy!’ The Cub, who had been uncharacteristically silent until then, came to life. ‘Playboy! Did you know George Langelaan? He wrote the short story The Fly …’

Mr. Parks tried to answer but the Cub just kept up with his motor mouthing.

‘Playboy published it in ‘57. It was made into the movie in ‘58. David Heddison…’

‘And our good friend,Vincent Price,’ Sandy Nimoy interjected. ‘You know, Art,it was Vincent that persuaded Leonard to put together a one-man show. He has several ready to go whenever things get slow in the movies.’

‘It was Vincent, huh?’ Art Park remarked . And once he managed to talk he kept on. ‘Now as far as The Fly and Langelaan is concerned, I never met him. He sold the story freelance. But aren’t you a little young to have read the story or seen the film? They’re a little before your time. ‘

‘Oh,’ explained the Cub, ‘I am a sci-fi affectionado. I have researched sci- fi extensively and I think the story and the film…’

At this point the manager of the Paramount said in a loud voice, ‘You know, Cubbie, if you had shown this kind of enthusiasm about the show you were paid to publicized we might have sold eight performances instead of four.’

That shut the young man down; but after he devoured his steak, he took off again on The Fly. ‘Now I know sci-fi might not be a favorite of yours, but, believe me, there are some very excellent sci-fi …’

‘Not a favorite!’ the manager spoke up in a hurry. ‘Not a favorite! What do you think Star Trek is, a Western?’

‘Enough talking about bugs,’ Sandy Nimoy said as she hit her spoon against her glass.

My first thought was she was going to make us sing Happy Birthday. I was relieved when she continued, ‘I am going to tell you how the Birthday Boy spent some hectic moments in his birthday’… Leonard made a motion for her to stop, but she gave him a wifely glare and continued. ‘I have to… because I know he won’t.’

Leonard shook his head and busied himself swizzling his Beefeater martini. His face turned a light shade of red. And the Cub’s face turned a deep shade of red. He looked around as if to find a way out of the room.

Sandy continued: We were done with the interview and heading home. Leonard and I were in the back. Cubbie was up front with the oh-so-beautiful driver. I suppose he was regaling her with how he could get her into show business.’

Leonard shrugged his shoulders and smiled. Cubbie finished off his drink.

Whatever,’she waved her hands and continued, ‘Leonard and I were talking when all of a sudden there was a lot of noise and a crowd of people standing outside. The driver had stopped and she was screeeeaming. Somehow she missed the cut-off to the highway and had tried to turn back to it, but instead got us into the ghetto…’

‘It was like the race riots were back again,’ the Cub shouted.

‘How would you know?’ Sandy snapped. ‘You buried yourself under the dash.’

Leonard raised his hand. ‘It wasn’t anything like a race riot. These people were in their own neighborhood, minding their own business, when some strangers drove in a big ass limousine. Talk about flaunting wealth in a poor neighborhood. We had no business being there.’ Now it his turn to glare at the Cub. ‘The driver got distracted. Made a mistake and was trying to correct it. As soon as she settled down, she managed to get the hell out of there. She did a good job getting out of there without anybody getting hurt. And I suppose when she brings back that limo with all the dents and cracked windows, she’ll get fired.’

‘No,’ the Cub interrupted, ‘I called her and she said her boss was mad but he didn’t fire her. Placed her on probation.’ He paused and then added, ‘She didn’t want to hear my apology. Said she would send you a letter of apology.’

‘Wait,’ Sandy Nimoy said, ‘I got to tell you what my Birthday Boy hero did. ‘There was a lot of screaming and swearing and banging on the car. Then I saw a man coming with a baseball bat…and Leonard pulled me over and pushed me on the floor! And then do you know what he did next? He laid on top of me! He sheltered me! He protected me with his body! My hero!’

Art Park clapped and we all joined in. Leonard waved off the applause and commented that Sandy was softer than the car’s hard floor. He got some laughs and a big kiss from his wife.

The Cub took this distraction to leave the room without anyone seeing him. I never seen or heard of him after that. He wasn’t at breakfast. I imagine he was long gone from Aurora by then.

I was next to leave, excusing myself, saying it was a long day for me and I was planning to go to the Chicago Art Institute the next day.

Riding the communicator train into Chicago, I thought about Sandy’s story, and nothing she said about her husband’s actions surprised me. And I certainly wasn’t surprised by his defense of the black ‘mob’. That man did not have a hint of the slightest racial or sexual prejudice. There were many stories of how, over the years, Leonard stood up for rights of the minorities. And spending that much time with Leonard those three years, I believe them..everyone of them.

(Oh! And did I ever luck out in my visit to the Art Institute. In addition to their permanent collection of Monet’s Haystacks, there was a traveling exhibition of a dozen more. They were all mounted on individual display flats in a large room so you could walk along and compare how Monet genius took a mundane series of stacks and showed how each was the same except each was different because of the change in the sun and time of the year.

I had to go back the next day to continue my walking around looking at other works of art in the Institute’s permanent collection, and still never saw a smidgion of what I would have liked to have seen.)

I never read the short story nor saw the original movie of The Fly but I thought of the Cub when I watched the 1986 remake of it with Jeff Goldblum. Now if the Cub would have done his job, we never would have had that unexpected break in Aurora/Chicago. And if he had let the limo driver do her job, I would not have this incident to tell you. Hope you enjoyed it.

That’s a wrap for now

STAY SAFE

Spoke PAUL NEWMAN

Celebrity endorsements or protests of political figures or views exploded during the Viet Nam Conflict. Nothing like what is going on the 2020 presidential race, but something totally unseen in the US before then.

Before WWII there was the Isolationist Movement with Charles Lindbergh as the figurehead; but after Pearl Harbor, the movement disappeared. Even Lindbergh volunteered to fight for the Allies. Turned down by the Army Air Corps, he was hired as a civilian advisor. Countless celebrities expressed their views by action, entering the War via draft or volunteering. Their actions better than words.

The Korean Conflict, America’s Forgotten War, received little media attention, let alone public concern. The American Legion and the VFW took a lot of soul searching and time before they accepted the fact that the participants were actual foreign war veterans and could become members. The US and the other countries involved did so under the auspices of the UN because of the Domino Theory, fear that if the Communists weren’t stopped in Korea, they would hit Japan next. The biggest Celeb attention came from the TV show M.A.S.H. filmed years later.

And then came Viet Nam. A civil war of words and protests broke out. Household names, personified by John Wayne on the right and Jane Fonda on the left, voiced their opinions on the involvement like never before. One side used the Domino Effect and patriotism, ‘My Country Right Or Wrong’, as the base of their arguments. The other pointed out that it was a Civil War fought to end French Imperialism and has nothing to do with the US. In short, we were involved in an unjust war.

Did the dueling names have any influence with their public views? Perhaps. The US involvement continued in spite of government lies and illegal acts, and the Draft was changed to add a numbering system; and finally our government yelled ‘Uncle’ and withdrew. Today the Communist country of Viet Nam is a prime trading partner of the US.

Did their views harm the careers of the endorsers? Well, in spite of history proving him wrong, the career of the outspoken John Wayne actually got a much needed boost; that and the fact that he finally learned how to act instead of just being the Duke over and over. It also gave him another military-hero movie to proclaim his patriotic spirit and remind people of his bravery in WWII…films.

Jane Fonda’s career nose-dived; not because of her protesting per se, but it’s extreme. She went into the capital, Hanoi, of the enemy our military was fighting. She cavorted in her photo-ops just a few miles from where American POWs, American heroes, were encaged. Her actions were not only in poor taste, they bordered on treason. It took many years and a lot of exercise tapes before she regained a career as the excellent actress she was prior and still is.

The Viet Nam draft was geared toward the lower middle class and minorities. Those of wealth and fame were passed over by the local Draft Boards. The most notable exception was Mohammad Ali, the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World.

Ali was vocal in his refusal to fight in Viet Nam on religious and civil rights grounds. He said he did not believe a man should kill another man. He also asked why should he shoot brown people who never did him any harm when nothing is being done in his own country to protect the rights of dark skinned citizens from civil abuse. He was found guilty of refusing the decision of his draft board, and the government of the United States stripped him of his World boxing title. He didn’t lose it like he won it, in the ring. It was a World title but the US, and the US alone, took the title from him. To hell with the rest of the world.

The US Supreme Court, by an 8 to 0, vote over-ruled the guilty decision. Ali, a few years later, won back his World Title the way he first earned it, in the boxing ring.

There were no celebs fighting Viet Nam at the time but many of the veterans of the fighting became famous afterwards…men like Oliver Stone and Kris Kristofferson saw action and translated their experience into movies and music.

Some, like ex-VP John Kerry, went and fought in Nam, earned a chestful of medals, came home and then protested the war.

Student deferments were one way of avoiding the draft. Some like ex-Pres Bill Clinton used the deferments in the right way. He finished near the top of his class in Columbia, did two years at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and finished near the head of the class in Yale law school.

Others needed a little help. Ex-VP Dick Cheney, a hawk who pushed for our attacking Iraq and Afghanistan among other things, lost his deferment when he flunked out of Yale. Faced with a One- A physical, he quickly entered the U of Wyoming and managed to keep up enough grades to avoid the draft.

Money and pull also helped. Wayne LaPierre, of NRA fame, was in trouble until his rich daddy found a doctor who stated that Wayne had a nervous condition. This phobia would prevent him from ...wait for it.. ever firing a gun.

When it looked like ex-VP Dan Quail was about to be drafted, his father managed to get him in the Indiana National Guard HQ, even though this perfect refuge was full at the time.

Ex-Pres H.W. Bush, a true WWII hero, had no sons drafted. His one son, ex-Pres George W. Bush, a true war hawk who was responsible for our invading 2 innocent countries that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack on the US, managed to avoid real military service through pull. He got into the air wing of the Texas National Guard and was trained as a jet fighter pilot. His lack of good aptitude and his poor attendance would have 86ed most other trainees, but he managed to receive millions of dollars worth of training; and He would have saw action if Texas ever was under attack but…

Oh, also he skipped out of the last several months of his service requirement to work in a senate election race in Alabama. Still he was given an honorable discharge.

Many avoided the draft by pretending insanity. The rocker/NRA poster boy/reality TV hunter, Ted Nugget tells the most disgusting story of how he ‘fooled’ the docs about to give him his physical. It’s on the net but if you have a weak stomach I would suggest not reading it.

And some like ex-mayor, Guiliani, avoided it under never-explained-circumstances. But then so much he does is impossible to explain.

Europe was one refuge for draft dodgers. Sylvester Stallion, who like John Wayne, is an actor who fought a lot of battles…in films only. He didn’t bother to report to his draft board when he turned 18 and went to be a ski instructor in the Alps instead. While his fellow Americans were being shot at, Stallion was enjoying himself earning his nickname, The Italian Stallion. And bragged about it. But unlike another well known draft dodger who fought the battle of avoiding VD and bragged about it, Stallion never called those who did fight ‘Losers”.

Mitt Romney, who backed every war except the one he have had to see action in, took advantage of slow draft board and went to Europe on a Mormon door-knocking mission.

Although almost 100,000 American males went to Canada to escape the draft and or deserted the service itself, there no celebs among them.

ExPres Jimmy Carter, a US Naval Academy grad, who served seven years in active service, five of which were in submarines, and who left the service only because his father died and he had to go back to the family business, ran for the presidency vowing to pardon all Viet Nam era draft dodgers. And always true to his word, Carter pardoned them all on the day after he took the oath of office. Carter was a one term president. Many vets said they voted against him because of his pardoning the draft dodgers. Wonder how many of these same vets voted for Trump.

Only about half of exiles choose to return to the US where a military record or lack of one meant a great deal in obtaining work. Government work, and some private employers, gave preference to military veterans. If a man had no military history employers wanted to know why. If a man had been in the military, the need for proof of an honorable discharge was required. The thought of a draft dodger getting elected to public office was out of the question…or so we thought.

Does it help? It certainly can’t hurt as long as the celeb that is doing the endorsing is a little higher than a has-been D-Lister, or an organization such as the Taliban.

Is it fair? I’ll defer that question to Paul Newman, outstanding actor/idol, and such a strong advocate of liberal politics and politicians that he made the FBI Enemies List in the Viet Nam Era.

When I was in charge of the stage of Northrop Auditorium early 60s, several times a week prominent speaker was booked for a free noon- speaking engagement. No tickets. No ushers.

The speakers were from all fields, but in those days, the ones that spoke out against Viet Nam involvement and the one pro-Civil Rights were the most popular; but none so popular as a symposium consisting of two pro Viet Nam advocates and two anti Viet Nam Advocates, one of the later was Paul Newman, and a moderator.

Unlike the usual audience of less than a thousand, this one was standing-room -only on the main floor with young ‘ladies’ elbowing their way up the aisles to get closer to the stage, and the balcony was almost half full also. At least 4,000.

It was a well informed and interesting hour, even if most of the audience only listened when Paul Newman spoke. When it wasn’t his turn to speak, he sat listening intently, all the while chewing on his gum. Paul Newman Cool.

I and my student crew had constructed a TV ‘studio’ backstage for a Paul Newman press interview after I pulled the stage curtain shut. Everything went well until one of the TV reporters asked him if he didn’t think it was fair that a famous celebrity like Newman should get involved in something as important as the Viet Nam War. People might agree with him only because he’s a movie star.

I swear the temperature rose ten degrees. Those famous blue eyes blazed. He took out his gum and threw it in a waste basket. He stood up… and Paul Newman spoke.

I can’t quote him verbatim but I can relate the gist of his speech: I am an American man with the right of Freedom of Speech. I am a father with a son that I hope will never have to fight in a war as unjust as this one. I am not a black man, but I am part Jewish and know that we must fight for Civil Rights and condemn the racial and religious hatred that persists in this country.

I am an actor and most people will listen more to me than to a truck driver or farmer, or even a clergyman. Not only is it fair for me to make my views public, it is my obligation. Whether or not they listen and believe in my viewpoint is immaterial. At least I might have opened the door to a different side of the argument than what they are use to listening to. And if I am just singing to the choir I am letting them know that I agree with the songs they are singing.

Thus spoke Paul Newman.

(A little aside from the topic.)

Many of the young ladies in the audience were not interested in going to their next class. They wanted to hang around Northrop to get a glimpse or better yet an autograph of Paul Newman. When one of my student crew was locking up the main auditorium a young lady whispered him aside. She offered him five bucks if he would get the gum that Paul Newman was chewing on. He dug it out of the trash can and sold it to her. Then he and another crew member got a couple packs of gum and after chewing a stick, would offer it in a very discreet manner to a waiting fan. I heard later they started asking ten bucks but dropped it down to five if a phone number came with it. I often wonder what happened to those two bandits. Probably became Social Media zillionaires.)

I purposely tried to avoid any mention of ‘he-whose-name-must-not-be-mentioned’ before, even though he is the most famous draft-dodger at this time, because he is beyond being just a chicken-hawk draft dodger. The way he speaks about veterans, their families, the fact he has done nothing about his good friend, Putin, paying on bounty to the Taliban to kill American military, the fact that both Putin and the Taliban are endorsing him… how can anyone who served vote for such a treasonous person is beyond me. Commander-In-Chief!

And how anybody can vote for a hate-filled who backs the would-be-nazis that are coming out of the sewer at his instigation. Lock Him, (and his friends),Up.

Or vote for one who sees over 200,000 deaths of citizens he swore to protect with the phrase, ‘It is what it is’. As one who moves from bleach injections as a cure to killing off the weak and old ones in the herd. ‘They are what they are’!!!

Enough! Please!

Wrap it.

Stay Safe.

And pray that the sun will shine again.

Oh! P.S. If you are offered a deal on an old wad of chewing gum purported to have been Paul Newman’s, don’t bite, it might be a scam.

LARRY & THE DUKE (III)

The Ghost Light is lit

waiting

Just as Duke Ellington’s life took a dramatic turn in the mid 50’s, Larry Howard’s life had a dramatic change in 1963, the Guthrie Theater opened in May with Larry as the stage-door man. The 60’s saw the Guthrie being recognized as a prominent regional theater, but in the late 60’s it began to push it’s limits and various power struggles in upper management caused both a lose of artistic personnel and audience. It came close to closing for good. In 1969 Don Schoenbaum, only a few years removed from coming to the theater as a Ford Foundation intern was placed in charge of both management and artistic decisions. He kept the theater going and with the help of Sir Tyrone Guthrie managed to lure Michael Langham away from Stratford Ontario and take over as Artistic Director in 1971. Larry Howard’s job was saved as were all the jobs of us working at the Guthrie when Michael took over.

And Larry was only a few years away from meeting the Duke.

Duke Ellington’s last tour began in October of 73 with the first month in Europe, before coming back to the U.S. where it ran almost nonstop until almost the end of March 74. This extreme tour was taken in spite of, or maybe because of, Duke’ health was failing. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer. He never announced anything about it being a farewell tour but he knew it was.

Mercer Ellington, the Duke’s only child knew also. Mercer was a composer, arranger, band musician, band leader both in conjunction with his father and on his own. In the late 60’s he left his personal career and joined his father’s organization as a trumpeter and road manager, and nurse. During a concert when the Duke became tired, Mercer took over on piano and conducting.

It was evident that the Duke was handing over the baton to his son. It was also evident that there was a strong bond of love between father and son. Over the years I had the pleasure of working the Duke Ellington Orchestra with Mercer in charge. Mercer was a gentleman just like his father. And when Mercer was phasing out, he slowly turned over the reins over to his son, Paul, who continues the tradition. I had the good fortune to have worked the three generations of the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

The two concerts at the Guthrie had been moved from January to March 15 and 17. The load-in/setup went smoothly. The concert was great. Sometime in the second half, Duke left the stage and Mercer took over. The Duke returned at bows and the Take The A Train encore piece.

When I went down to the stage to put out the ghost light and wrap up for the night, Joey B, the Guthrie deck hand told me about a conversation between two of the ‘old-timers’ when they were casing up their horns.

One leaned over and asked where the next gig was. When he was told that they had a day off and then came back to this same stage, he laughed and said, ‘Damn, you don’t say. Tonight wasn’t a one-nighter.’

“Nope we can go and jam tonight and sleep tomorrow during the day.’

‘Well,’ the first old-timer replied, ‘I’ll just go to the hotel and sleep tonight and sleep tomorrow too. My bones are tired, man, tired.’

Some of the band did go jamming that night, at the Padded Cell, a small jazz club in Minneapolis, frequented by both local and national musicians and known to lock it’s door at closing time and allow the jam sessions to go well past sunup. Sad to say, the Cell, like all the jazz clubs in the Twin Cities and across the river in Mendota, where I grew up, are long gone.

Michael Langham had the Duke autograph Larry’s book as he promised, but Ellington was very disappointed that Larry had not brought the book to the dressing room in person. From what Michael had told him about Larry, Ellington said he really wanted to meet him. The two worked out a way.

It wasn’t just the band members that enjoyed a day off. Mine was spent with a late sleep before I began my spring yard work. In show business you grab sleep when you can. Like the old timer said, the bones get tired.

When I drove into the Guthrie lot for the second concert, I saw Dawson’s limo parked so Larry could not get out. It was past the time Larry usually left for home. When I walked around the limo to get in the stage door, I could see Larry and the Duke sitting in the back seat, windows rolled down to catch the spring weather. Two elderly gentlemen engaged in conversation. Larry had met the Duke.

Lawson was in the green room when I went in to get some coffee. ‘I never saw Larry smile like that when I opened the door so he could get in with the Duke,’ Dawson told me. He looked at his watch and said in ten minutes he would have to bring Ellington around to the lower stage door, and Larry could go home.

The next time I saw Larry he told me how easy it was to talk to Duke Ellington. ‘It was like we were friends from way back.’ He showed me his copy of Music Is My Mistress that Michael had given him for Christmas and now it had the Duke’s autograph.

The second concert like the first was excellent. The playlist was a little different than the first to keep the musicians from getting bored This time though the Duke didn’t make it through to the intermission.

Joey B. was breaking down things when I got down to the stage. Mercer was looking out the door and one of the musicians was sitting on a chair next to the door.

Joey came over and told me in his stage whisper how the old guy took off his shoe and sock as soon as he came off stage. ‘His damn foot is all swelled up,’ Joey said, nodding to the band member, ‘And it’s green. Green! Looks like hell.’

I took a good look at the man. It was Paul Gonsalves, of the Newport Jazz Festival fame.

After seeing Gonsalves off to the Emergency Hospital, Mercer helped us with the breakdown and supervised us loading everything in the bins of the bus. He told us that he was going to get his father and the Duke always wanted to thank the stage crew. ‘But whatever you do,’ he said, ‘Don’t mention anything about having to send Gonsalves to the hospital. I’ll make up some excuse why Paul isn’t at the next gig, but I can’t tell him how bad he is. Dad just couldn’t handle that news… in his condition.’

Joey B. and I were only too glad to glad to wait and shake Duke Ellington’s hand. Joey commented on how much he liked ‘that good kind of music’, and I agreed and thanked him for his meeting with Larry.

The Duke gave me a smile and said it was his pleasure to meet Larry. ‘He’s quite a man. You here at the Guthrie are lucky to have him. He really had an interesting life. Did you his father was a Buffalo Soldier?’ And then he added, ‘Next time I play here, I’m going to make it a point to take him out to dinner.’

Mercer turned his head so his dad couldn’t see the expression on his face.

Mercer never told his father how sick ‘Strolling Violins’ Paul Gonsalves was. And he never told him when Paul died on 5/15/ 74, eight days before Duke Ellington died. Gonsalves was only 53, but years of drug and alcohol took their toll on him.

When the band left the Guthrie, they played six more gigs, canceling the two at the end of the tour. He died five days after the tour ended. He had his 75th birthday just a few weeks before.

Larry Howard continued to greet people from behind his stage door counter for several more years before he retired. I sadly lost track of him after he left the Guthrie.

I do know he was walking better in his later years. That promise that the young actor/director intern at the Guthrie, David Feldshuh, was fulfilled when David got his medical doctorate

David’s medical doctorate followed his doctorate in theater. Doctor/Doctor David continues his work in theater as a prize winning playwright, nominated in 1992 for a Pulitzer for Miss Ever’s Boys, teacher, and director at Cornell, as well as working in the Cayuga Medical Center with Emergency Medicine as his speciality.

.Currently he is one of the Front Line Heroes in the battle against COVID19.

There’s no people like Show People. They smile when they are low.’

Show people, many of my family member included, were the first to lose their livelihood

when the virus hit.

And they will be some of the last to go back to their profession

And the current ‘leadership’ in the White House and Senate are doing nothing to help the millions of

AMERICANS

on the verge of losing everything.

VOTE!!!

And this is a wrap for the three part Larry & The Duke.

Larry & THE DUKE (II}

Young Larry and his family had a hard-scramble life in the Dakotas. Young Edward lived in a fine house in a good neighborhood in Washington D.C.

The Duke’s father’s artist talent got him a good job making blueprints for the U.S. Navy, and before that served as a White House butler. Both young Ellington’s parents were well known pianists in D.C. and were hired to perform at both private and government functions. His mother specialized in parlor music. His father in operatic arias. Edward started his ‘playing’ the piano at the age of three. At the age of eleven he began to receive lessons from a prominent teacher.

His musical life of light classical began to change around the age of fourteen when he began to sneak into a pool hall to listen to the piano players beating out jazz, ragtime, blues, music that here- to -for he had only heard about.

It was around this time Edward got the nickname Duke. He was a dapper dresser and had casual air about him. His friends thought Edward just didn’t fit him and one of them titled him Duke. The name not only stuck, it replaced his given name.

The Duke composed his first of over a thousand compositions, Soda Fountain Rag. He was fifteen and could neither read or write music. He felt that his skill was not playing piano but composing. He worked hard to learn the mechanics of music. He also began to organize combos and to play at dances. Like his father, Duke was an exceptional artist, so much so he was offered an art scholarship to Pratt Institute; which he turned down because he believed strongly that his music would be his life.

Earning money by day as a sign painter, playing gigs at night. Soon his combo, The Duke’s Serenaders, was playing embassy parties and private functions in D.C. and nearby Virginia, playing for both Afro-Americans and white audiences. The Duke was on his way…

But like all over-night successes in Show Biz it was a lot of hard work and a lot of two steps forward, one step back; and often one forward, two back. The early 1920’s saw him and his ensemble hopping between New York and D.C. with an occasional stop in Atlantic City. His ensemble grew both in size and in quality. His compositions grew and various musicians in his band often took a different approach to a song. Ellington’s musical horizons expanded as did his popularity and respect as both a composer and as band leader.

In 1926, Irvin Mills, a prominent music publisher and jazz artist promoter, came to an Ellington club date to scout the Duke out as a possible client. He was so impressed he signed Ellington that very night. Mills only took 45% of Ellington Inc.. Sounds like a lot today, but it was an unheard of contract between a white agent and a black musician. It was usually that the musician got only 40% or less.

Mills relieved Ellington of the business end that robbed the Duke of time better spent with his music. Getting recording gigs, radio air play, films, and live performances at prominent venues.

On of these venues was the famous Cotton Club where the Ellington Orchestra was house band on several extended occasions, and later as guest artists. It was the Prohibition Era and also the Jim Crow Era. The performers were black and came in through the back door. The audience was white and paid big money while coming in the front door. Ellington was expected to compose and play ‘jungle music’. This segregation at the club ended thanks a lot in part by Ellington.

As the Depression took hold, the recording business suffered; but radio exposed the Duke to a growing audience and tours became the band’s mainstay. Ellington’s compositions during those years, like Mood Indigo and Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, were big hits no matter who sang or played them. Then in 1938, a composer/arranger, Billy Strayhorn, applied to Ellington as a lyricist.

Strayhorn brought Lush Life, a song he composed as a teenager, to show the Duke a sample of his work. He also began to outline different arrangements of a few of Ellington’s work. Duke found his ‘left hand, his right hand’, the missing link in his musical journey.

Like his idol, the Duke, Strayhorn’s musical foundation was classical. His dream was to be a classical composer; but he knew that a black would never be accepted in the classical music world of the day, so jazz became his medium…until he discovered the jazz/classical compositions of Ellington.

The two worked as one, composing in the classical vein of suites. Strayhorn made new arrangements for Ellington’s standards as well as composing songs on his own. The first Ellington recording of a Strayhorn work was Take The A Train which became the signature introduction of the Ellington’s Orchestra. For the next 25+ years the two collaborated, one working on a theme and the other jumping in, until it became impossible to credit either one for the completed work.

The Swing Era/Big Band Era began in the mid-30’s and continued for a good ten years. While the white Big Bands, like Dorseys, Harry James, Glen Miller, took the lead in popularity and money, the black Big Bands, like Ellington, Basie, Cab Calloway, had good years also. Radio, juke boxes, recordings, even cameo in movies, combined to make it a golden age for big band jazz music, black and white. While most of the bands followed a common road, the Duke and his musical compositions took a more serious musical route, not relying only on the tried and true hits of the past.

This route took it’s toll on Ellington’s orchestra after WWII. Swing was replaced by Be Bop and promoters found that small groups, trios, quartets, brought in good audiences at much less cost. Great musicians, like Armstrong and Hampton, broke away from bands and fronted these combos.

It was the birth of Cool Jazz, aka West Coast Jazz. Dave Brubeck’s quartet with Paul Desmond. Gerry Mulligan with Chet Baker. Modern Jazz Quartet. And of course, Miles Davis.

The early 50’s brought a severe revolution in music. Teenagers became prime movers and R&B, Rock & Roll on cheap 45 discs introduced new idols like Presley, Little Richard, Pat Boone, to replace the likes of Sinatra and the Andrew Sisters. Hits and misses in the main stream were often dictated by disc jockeys, often televised, and the Top 40 on the radio was influenced by bribes called payola. Black recording artists were ripped off big time by their white ‘agents’.

Ellington had long fought against the three- minute cut on LP records and there was no room for Ellington’s vision of his music on a 45 disc.. His music needed much more space. His music needed an orchestra not a small combo. His genius refused to lower the bar.

In 1950 he and his orchestra stayed afloat thanks to a Europe tour, set up by the Black- Listed Orson Welles. They did 74 gigs in 77 days. During which he managed to compose music for a Welles’ stage production as well as performing a Welles’ variety show in Paris. While he never played any new personal compositions on tour he managed to finish his extended composition Harlem in his ‘spare time’.

Returning home, times were tough. Dance gigs and concert tours were few and far between. His royalties from his standards brought him the needed money to compose his serious music and to managed to keep his key musicians alive. But by 1955 there wasn’t a record company that wanted him.

And then in the evening of July 7, 1956, a string of unlikely occurrences combined to make a perfect storm that resurrected the career of Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. The Ellington New Port Concert is as an important jazz event as the Benny Goodman Carnegie Hall concert in 1938.

Ellington’s concert wasn’t at a famous venue like Carnegie Hall. It was on the last of a three day jazz festival, a relative new concept in music, at Newport, R.I.. Unlike Benny Goodman, who headlined the famous Carnegie Hall concert in 1938, Ellington was just one of many acts. Unlike the prominent sidemen in Goodman’s orchestra, artists like Harry James on trumpet, Jess Stacy on piano, and of course, Gene Krupa on drums, the Ellington group had lost many talented members, although several came back for the Newport Festival gig, like the great alto sax player, Johnny Hodges. Goodman brought down the house with exceptional solos on the popular Sing Sing Sing. At Newport the audience erupted on a 1938 Ellington composition, Diminuendo And Crescendo In Blue, stuck in the playlist at the last minute, and the astounding solo of a journeyman tenor sax player, Paul Gonsalves. The dancing in the aisles at Carnegie was a spontaneous reaction by the audience. The dancing at Newport during the solo by Gonsalves was done an unknown platinum blonde in a black dress that jumped from her seat and danced her way to the stage.

Gonsalves was hired by Ellington six years before. He had played in many major orchestra but his many addictions cost him work.  Ellington liked having him around because Gonsalves was fond of going out in the audience to perform. The Duke nicknamed him Gypsy,also Strolling Violins.

And this night, Ellington specifically told Gonsalves to take the solo, even though the great alto sax, Johnny Hodges was with them that evening. Gonsalves’ solo lasted for an unbelievable 27 choruses. He was accompanied by Woods on bass and Woodyard on drums with an occasional prompts by Ellington on piano and Ellington’s ‘Dig in, Paul. Dig in.’The audience exploded and the finale featured a high trumpet solo by Cat Anderson. And Ellington and his band were reborn.

Time Magazine loudly proclaimed that fact and honored Duke Ellington with his picture on the cover. To date, Duke is only one of five jazz musicians to be so honored.

Columbia released the entire concert as quickly as possible. It not only became Ellington’s all time selling album, it became one of the jazz world’s best seller. Old time fans like Larry Howard bought one right away. Younger fans, like your truly, got one a few years later through the Columbia Record club.

The royalties from album and his new recording contract with Columbia afforded Ellington the luxury of composing as he always wanted to. He was free to break out of the three minute cuts of LP’s and 45”s. Free to devote time to suites etc. that are played by symphony orchestras world wide. And also the money kept his core orchestra members working, something the other black big bands couldn’t do.

The following year, 1957, was Ellington’s Shakespeare year. The Duke liked Shakespeare. Billy Strayhorn loved Shakespeare. After his success at Newport, he gave a series of concerts at the Stratford Festival in Ontario. He was asked back for another concert in 57 and Michael Langham, the artistic director of the Stratford Playhouse, contracted him to write the incidental music for Langham’s production of ‘Timon of Athens’.

While performing there Ellington was persuaded by the staff at the theater to write a composition inspired by Shakespeare. The end result was his, and Strayhorn’s, 12 piece suite based on works of Shakespeare, Such Sweet Thunder.

The next big step that year was when he and Strayhorn broke the Afro-American barrier in Hollywood sound track. Otto Preminger hired them to compose the sound track for the movie, Anatomy of A Murder. The album won the Grammy Award for best soundtrack. Other movie soundtracks followed.

Suite after suite compositions, some with Strayhorn, others just by Ellington, followed right up to his death. The later years he was working on his Sacred Music suites, deemed by Ellington as his greatest works,. In 1973 his Third Sacred Concert premiered at Westminster Abby in England.

These later years were the busiest and most profitable years of his life. There were the recordings of his new compositions and collaboration recordings with other jazz greats. His old friendly rival, Count Basie, others like Louis Armstrong, Charlie Mingus, Coleman Hawkins, John Coltrain, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra. His early songs, now standards, were recorded by him and others, producing royalties as never before.

But he never neglected live performances, after all it was live performances that started his career, and comprised a major portion of his life of music. He and his orchestra toured around the world during that period.

His last tour started in July of 1973 and continued thru to March 22, 1974. He knew this would be his last. His health was failing. Lung cancer. Several times events were rescheduled due to illness. One such was the two concerts at the Guthrie, that was moved from January 74 to March74. It was at this second concert when Larry Howard got the meet the Duke.

This is the second in the three part series. The last will follow in a day or so. In the meantime,

STAY SAFE